HOLD THE SALAMI: NEW VEGAN DELI DELIGHTS
Berben and Wolff’s Vegan Delicatessen has unknowingly been a staple in the Albany restaurant scene, even though their official storefront did not open on 227 Lark St. until this past May.
If you have recently tried the vegan options at Café Madison, Junior’s, The Hollow, Iron Gate Café, New World Bistro Bar, Honest Weight Food Coop, The Ruck, or Healthy on Lark, then chances are you have already ate Berben & Wolff’s house made seitan, wheat protein that has a similar texture to meat, and is used as vegan option in cooking.
Joey Berben, 31, is a native of San Diego and has been vegan since he was 15. He has lived in NY for the past 10 years and during that time he has fed countless rock bands passing through the area and has made a name for himself in the Albany restaurant community by producing wholesale seitan.
Not long after moving to New York, Berben met Max Wolff through friends and soon the duo was working together at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany, NY. Fast forward a couple of years, and Wolff was ready to turn their selling of wholesale seitan into a legitimate business partnership.
“[Wolff] just called me up one day and said he had like a dream that we had this business together. . . I said, ‘let’s do it,” Berben said.
Berben & Wolff’s resides in the same storefront as a former staple vegan café, The Brakes Coffeehouse and Provisions. The transition from one vegan establishment to another was done in a whirlwind manner once Berben and Wolff decided to go into business together.
“I just went up [to Brakes] and was like, ‘Hey just throwing it out there. If you ever wanted to get out of business we would take over the lease’ and she [Emily, the owner] was just like ok,” Berben said.
In a 30-day turnaround, Berben and Wolff stuck to their do-it-yourself root and worked day and night constructing their deli. They did everything from painting to remolding by themselves with their goal being of opening as soon as possible.
“We just announced we’re going to open and then we had to open no matter what,” Berben said.
By mid-May their first customers came pouring in, and since then the momentum has not slowed down. By 1 p.m. on a Friday, a previously full food display case was already nearing empty.
When you walk into Berben and Wolff’s establishment you are greeted with blue-green walls, and an overall clean feel that is mellowed out by a few rock show posters on the wall and the sounds of Toots and the Maytals playing through the speakers.
Berben and Wolff are already having mainstream success; they recently did an order for heavy metal god, Rob Zombie, and have been hired to cater for upper class stores such as Lush and Athleta in the Crossgates Mall.
If you ever find yourself in the middle of Lark Street and have the option of eating one item from the deli, Wolff advises customers to get the Wing Burger, “It’s our best seller.”
Customers ordering the Wing burger have the choice of buffalo or bbq breaded fried chicken-style seitan, served with carrots, celery, and ranch on a sesame seed bun.
According to Berben, “the prospect of picking one item is kind of hard, since everything on our menu is its own thing.”
As far as choosing to identify as just a restaurant or a vegan restaurant, Berben and Wolff are trying to break the mold of stereotypical vegan establishments that surround customers with pamphlets, statistics, and pictures of animal abuse.
“I feel like the natural progression of veganism is trying to stray away from this separatism. This like us vs them kind of thing,” Berben said.