PENNSYLVANIAHOMES.COM

By Pamela Sosnowski

Silvia Lucci is living proof that something very good can come out of something very bad. When a domino effect of crises struck her family five years ago, the Luccis turned to a vegan diet and immediately began to experience healing, both within themselves and with their outer world. Inspired by the positive change, they opened LUHV Vegan Bistro in Hatboro in 2012 to show that a vegan and gluten free diet can be satisfying and transformative.

"Our family was exposed to tremendous stress, from severe health issues to a financial crisis, and everything in between," Lucci said. "My husband Daniel, using his most basic resources which were his extraordinary culinary talent, brought veganism into our life. After tons of reading materials, he believed that bringing what we called healing foods into our diet could allow us to get better at least in some area of our life."

The Argentinian-born couple experienced improved health, overall happiness, and a calling to go into a new business and direction. In addition to their bistro, they sell their vegan and gluten free products frozen through several local grocery stores including Whole Foods, Bunn's Market, MOM's Organics, and others. Late in 2017 they also opened their deli at the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia where commuters can purchase fresh soups, burger "dough", salads, and more. In addition to using fresh and locally grown ingredients, the company is committed to making a difference to the environment by using only biodegradable packaging as well.

"Our goal is to mainstream veganism, and to be true to its principles of health, environment, and ethics," Lucci said. "LUHV Bistro serves in 100% compostable materials from containers, drinking cups, and silverware. The décor is based on reusable materials that have minimal environmental impact."

Some of the bistro's most popular menu items include the black bean, plantain, and roasted poblano pepper burger, the garbanzo, flax seed, and chipotle burger, and the famous energy soup made with roasted garlic and quinoa. The Luccis also offer a "tuna" salad created using chickpeas, which offer a similar taste and texture as the fish, and a super spicy food salad.

The bistro doubles as the company's headquarters, where food is prepared fresh and new recipes are tested. The Luccis' son is also involved in the business, making it truly family owned and operated. Many of their items are also available as catering options with servings that feed up to 12 people.

What Lucci loves most about her career turn is hearing how much customers love her food, and getting to delight those who would never consider trying a vegan meal.

"What separates our food from others is the flavors that surprise vegan and non-vegans," she said. "It's just plain delicious and most people do not care about labels if it tastes good."

The Hatboro location is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 AM to 8 PM. Customers can order take out online via the website. To view the menu and learn more about LUHV Vegan Bistro's food, visit https://bistro.luhvfood.com.

The Inquirer

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Nina Bryan considered selling her banana pudding at Reading Terminal Market years ago, but while she tried to figure out the logistics and financing involved with setting up an outpost of her company, a better-prepared vendor swooped in and won the coveted spot.

This time, when Reading Terminal general manager Anuj Gupta approached her with a pitch to operate a day cart, all Bryan needed was the pudding, some plastic spoons, and a tablecloth. Since she opened Sweet Nina’s Banana Pudding across from the Down Home Diner about three months ago, Bryan has sold at least 100 cups of pudding per day.

“An entrepreneur like myself wouldn’t have been able to get in here before,” she said. “I know, I tried. For me, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Bryan is one of the notable successes of a recent effort by Reading Terminal management to give small businesses a foothold in a venue that has been historically difficult to break into. With low turnover and stores that haven’t moved for decades, Reading Terminal can be intimidating for new merchants, Gupta said. So when Wan’s Seafood moved out last fall, vacating a 900-square-foot spot in the market’s center, Gupta decided against finding a vendor to take up the entire area. Instead, the market for the first time started leasing carts to merchants like Bryan for $50 a day, and moved them into the empty space.

“We found ourselves in this incredibly competitive environment where you want to test new concepts and give customers something new,” Gupta said. “We needed a way to bring in some of these hyper-local entrepreneurs, these small-batch products that you can find at farmers’ markets. And the way to do that was to lower the barriers to entry.”

The wheeled carts, left over from the market’s days as a train station, already were being leased to a few businesses that needed no refrigeration — like Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits and newcomer Birdie’s Biscuits — for use as pop-up stands in the center of the building. The feedback from customers and owners was good, Gupta said, so last fall he and members of his team started working with the Health Department on turning the former Wan’s Seafood into a flexible space for multiple kiosks. The space has no built-in cooking station, but other than sinks, refrigeration, and the proper permits and licenses, it turned out little was needed for businesses to start selling ready-made food.

Gupta and others approached vendors to fill gaps at the market, like LUHV, a Hatboro family business that now sells grab-and-go vegan food like salads, soups, and award-winning veggie burgers at Reading Terminal three days a week.

“We always wanted to come here,” said Facundo Lucci, whose Argentine immigrant parents have owned restaurants in the Philadelphia suburbs for more than 20 years. “We just thought it was something you couldn’t even dream of achieving.”

Founded by Lucci and his parents Daniel and Silvia in 2016, LUHV has a bistro in Hatboro and sells its products in grocery stores in Pennsylvania and four other states.  Since opening at Reading Terminal in November, Facundo Lucci said, business has been brisk, with the vegan tuna salad, made from garbanzo beans, turning out to be a best seller. Eventually, Lucci hopes to operate a full kitchen and serve more made-to-order food.

“This is our foot in the door,” he said. “A lot of our customers eat meat, but they’re open to this.”

Bryan, a longtime caterer who makes six flavors of pudding with fresh bananas, custard, and vanilla cookies based on her mother’s recipe, makes pudding off-site, but aspires to expand her footprint in Reading Terminal and someday prepare it in-house. She has more flavors coming, including one made with La Colombe coffee, as well as quiches she’d like to sell.

Nina Bryan sells Sweet Nina’s banana pudding at Reading Terminal Market.

For Patricia Shea, who sells all-natural, low-calorie mixers for use with spirits, seltzer, or juices, Reading Terminal has offered an opportunity to teach customers about her company, Bieza Exceptional Mixers.

“It was originally about people who don’t drink, and how there’s often nothing for them on a menu,” said Shea, who is at the market three days a week. “Over time, it has started to fit with people’s interest in nutrition. It’s about drinking less sugar, whether you’re drinking or not.”

Shea sells the mixers — in pomegranate tea and citrus ginger flavors — mostly online, and offers recipes for using them in both cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks.

“I’m really honored to be here,” she said. “It wasn’t something I ever thought was possible.”

Gupta said he wants to create permanent homes for some vendors, perhaps through three- or six-month leases. Traditional leases at Reading Terminal are for five years or more, he said, due to the size of many of the spots and the capital involved in customizing a kitchen.

“This has essentially given us a farm team that we can someday move into these bigger spaces,” he said.

The Inquirer

of President Reagan’s amnesty program and were awarded U.S. citizenship. Enacted in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants while at the same time cracking down on employers by criminalizing the act of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. In 1997, the couple opened Café Con Leche in Newtown Borough. In 2005, the café was booming, and the Luccis bought a second restaurant in hopes the extra funds would pay for their four children’s college tuitions. Patagonia Bar and Grill in Northampton’s Richboro section had seating for 200 and a liquor license. The couple mortgaged their home and invested all of their savings into the new restaurant. “It was a chaotic time in our lives, and I believe we were in over our heads,” said Silvia Lucci. When the economy crashed in 2008, so did the restaurant. In 2012, they closed the Northampton restaurant and declared bankruptcy. They still have the business in Newtown. Soon after came a letter from a university where their son, Facundo, was in his final year. Unless the Luccis paid a $30,000 tuition bill within the next three weeks, Facundo could not return to school. The same day she received the letter, the 52-year-old Silvia suffered what she later learned was a mild stroke. When the ambulance arrived, she refused to go to the hospital. The family did not have health insurance, and she feared they would be financially ruined. At home in Warminster, Silvia struggled with her mobility and failing health. Daniel decided to use his skills as a chef to h

COURIER TIMES

 As immigrants to the United States, the Lucci family has learned that the American dream is more than just an opportunity to succeed. Silvia and Daniel Lucci have experienced both success and failure in the decades they’ve spent in the restaurant business. For them, the American dream is defined not just by that success, but also by the ability to fail and begin again. LUHV Vegan Bistro in Hatboro represents their attempt to begin again. There, the family is introducing customers to meatless and dairy-free cuisine that they say is hearty, healthy and packed with flavor, honed from their heritage in Argentina. Daniel and Silvia Lucci came to the U.S. with work visas in the 1980s. Daniel worked as a chef. Silvia, with a master’s degree in social development, worked as a teacher. Later, they applied for a green card and were told to return to Argentina and languish on what they say was a 23-year waiting list. They chose, instead, to stay in the U.S. illegally. “There’s no one person in this country who wants to be illegal, but the barriers are so big and there’s so many people (waiting for permanent residence),” Silvia Lucci said. Five years later, the Luccis became beneficiaries of President Reagan’s amnesty program and were awarded U.S. citizenship. Enacted in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants while at the same time cracking down on employers by criminalizing the act of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. In 1997, the couple opened Café Con Leche in Newtown Borough. In 2005, the café was booming, and the Luccis bought a second restaurant in hopes the extra funds would pay for their four children’s college tuitions. Patagonia Bar and Grill in Northampton’s Richboro section had seating for 200 and a liquor license. The couple mortgaged their home and invested all of their savings into the new restaurant. “It was a chaotic time in our lives, and I believe we were in over our heads,” said Silvia Lucci. When the economy crashed in 2008, so did the restaurant. In 2012, they closed the Northampton restaurant and declared bankruptcy. They still have the business in Newtown. Soon after came a letter from a university where their son, Facundo, was in his final year. Unless the Luccis paid a $30,000 tuition bill within the next three weeks, Facundo could not return to school. The same day she received the letter, the 52-year-old Silvia suffered what she later learned was a mild stroke. When the ambulance arrived, she refused to go to the hospital. The family did not have health insurance, and she feared they would be financially ruined. At home in Warminster, Silvia struggled with her mobility and failing health. Daniel decided to use his skills as a chef to help nurse her back to health. “He said, ‘From now on you’re just going to eat healing foods — foods that are good for you,’” recalled Silvia Lucci. Her health began to improve, she said, as she cut out all animal products from her diet. She had more energy, and a “sense of well-being.” For those who become vegans, it’s typically a process, said Facundo Lucci, who became a vegan two years ago. “You start feeling the goodness in your body and you start feeling goodness in your brain, and you just don’t want to go back,” he said. The most difficult part of becoming a vegan is losing the convenience of eating on the go, he said. “That’s why we are here,” he said, of LUHV Bistro. “There is no convenience for a vegan. That’s a big deterrent.” The Luccis hope LUHV (which stands for Lucci Ultra Healthy Vegan) Bistro will serve as a model for healthy fast food. On a weekday lunch hour, the Hatboro restaurant is filled with customers from all walks of life: a group of senior women, a family with young children, even U.S. servicemen from the Horsham Air Guard Station. The menu board changes daily with a variety of vegan burgers, salads and soups. Air Force Sgt. Patrick Salmon is a regular customer. He has kept to a vegetarian diet for the last 30 years. “I have been all over the world and the food here is amazing,” said Salmon. Since LUHV opened last year, business has been booming, the Luccis said. Next to the bistro is LUHV Factory, where they make and package vegan burger patties that are sold in 17 food stores across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. “What we want is to mainstream veganism. You take the fear out of it,” said Silvia Lucci. As she’s regained her health, Silvia Lucci also has regained her faith in a bright future. “Maybe we are still the American dream. This is real. You fall down and America gives you the opportunity to get back up again.”

As immigrants to the United States, the Lucci family has learned that the American dream is more than just an opportunity to succeed. Silvia and Daniel Lucci have experienced both success and failure in the decades they’ve spent in the restaurant business. For them, the American dream is defined not just by that success, but also by the ability to fail and begin again. LUHV Vegan Bistro in Hatboro represents their attempt to begin again. There, the family is introducing customers to meatless and dairy-free cuisine that they say is hearty, healthy and packed with flavor, honed from their heritage in Argentina. Daniel and Silvia Lucci came to the U.S. with work visas in the 1980s. Daniel worked as a chef. Silvia, with a master’s degree in social development, worked as a teacher. Later, they applied for a green card and were told to return to Argentina and languish on what they say was a 23-year waiting list. They chose, instead, to stay in the U.S. illegally. “There’s no one person in this country who wants to be illegal, but the barriers are so big and there’s so many people (waiting for permanent residence),” Silvia Lucci said. Five years later, the Luccis became beneficiaries of President Reagan’s amnesty program and were awarded U.S. citizenship. Enacted in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants while at the same time cracking down on employers by criminalizing the act of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. In 1997, the couple opened Café Con Leche in Newtown Borough. In 2005, the café was booming, and the Luccis bought a second restaurant in hopes the extra funds would pay for their four children’s college tuitions. Patagonia Bar and Grill in Northampton’s Richboro section had seating for 200 and a liquor license. The couple mortgaged their home and invested all of their savings into the new restaurant. “It was a chaotic time in our lives, and I believe we were in over our heads,” said Silvia Lucci. When the economy crashed in 2008, so did the restaurant. In 2012, they closed the Northampton restaurant and declared bankruptcy. They still have the business in Newtown. Soon after came a letter from a university where their son, Facundo, was in his final year. Unless the Luccis paid a $30,000 tuition bill within the next three weeks, Facundo could not return to school. The same day she received the letter, the 52-year-old Silvia suffered what she later learned was a mild stroke. When the ambulance arrived, she refused to go to the hospital. The family did not have health insurance, and she feared they would be financially ruined. At home in Warminster, Silvia struggled with her mobility and failing health. Daniel decided to use his skills as a chef to help nurse her back to health. “He said, ‘From now on you’re just going to eat healing foods — foods that are good for you,’” recalled Silvia Lucci. Her health began to improve, she said, as she cut out all animal products from her diet. She had more energy, and a “sense of well-being.” For those who become vegans, it’s typically a process, said Facundo Lucci, who became a vegan two years ago. “You start feeling the goodness in your body and you start feeling goodness in your brain, and you just don’t want to go back,” he said. The most difficult part of becoming a vegan is losing the convenience of eating on the go, he said. “That’s why we are here,” he said, of LUHV Bistro. “There is no convenience for a vegan. That’s a big deterrent.” The Luccis hope LUHV (which stands for Lucci Ultra Healthy Vegan) Bistro will serve as a model for healthy fast food. On a weekday lunch hour, the Hatboro restaurant is filled with customers from all walks of life: a group of senior women, a family with young children, even U.S. servicemen from the Horsham Air Guard Station. The menu board changes daily with a variety of vegan burgers, salads and soups. Air Force Sgt. Patrick Salmon is a regular customer. He has kept to a vegetarian diet for the last 30 years. “I have been all over the world and the food here is amazing,” said Salmon. Since LUHV opened last year, business has been booming, the Luccis said. Next to the bistro is LUHV Factory, where they make and package vegan burger patties that are sold in 17 food stores across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. “What we want is to mainstream veganism. You take the fear out of it,” said Silvia Lucci. As she’s regained her health, Silvia Lucci also has regained her faith in a bright future. “Maybe we are still the American dream. This is real. You fall down and America gives you the opportunity to get back up again.”