MEDIA — Gangsters and veganism may not be two lifestyles most people would combine on the streets of Media. But thanks to Gangster Vegan Organics by the beginning of April, it will be.
The 14 W. State St. franchise is under the leadership of Nicolai Jensen and business partner Mike B — with the original at 2454 W. Main St. in Norristown and another at 6 Gay St. in Phoenixville — and like the other two, will be offering Delaware County an array of juices and vegan dishes named after '90s rappers such as the Swiss Beets beet burger and the ODB broccoli burger.
For the 34-year-old Broomall resident, eating this way comes naturally.
"I was a vegetarian since birth," he said. "My mom actually went over to Japan in the '70s ... and learned how to do some macrobiotic cooking."
It was a different time then.
"People, they would just torture you in school," Jensen said. "I'd be sitting there with some type of plant-based sandwich and this is in the early '90s in Penn Valley and everybody's just making fun of you and it's OK. But now everybody's asking me for advice. It's the complete opposite."
This location came to fruition by route of Norristown.
"I was sick of being in sales," Jensen said, adding that he was going to do in-home personal training and teach people how to cook and eat after watching his wife, Dr. Lindsay Jensen, get her Ph.D through two pregnancies. "My buddy, he was a frequent customer of the Gangster Vegan in Norristown and he suggested doing this and now, we're here."
Besides, he's friends with Nichole Missino, who's owned and operated Giovanni's Barber Shop for the last three years and she noted the town has no full vegan restaurant.
"This is going to be really great," she said. "So many people are switching to that lifestyle, it's going to be such a huge thing for him."
The Norristown location was the first for the chain and it's owned and operated by Miguel Osorio, who opened it with GVO's founder, "Vinny Vegan" DePaul.
"We could have easily went to the middle of Philadelphia," the 2001 Norristown High grad explained. "We wanted to put a place in our neighborhood. When we were growing up there was no Whole Foods and Wegmans. We wanted to create something that was integral. We didn't want to have the food desert where we're at."
Osorio himself was a meat eater for 30 years until trying a 30-day vegan challenge. Six years later and 70 pounds lighter, he's still in it.
"It's a lifestyle," he said. "It was more about being informed ... It's pretty powerful honestly ... I've never felt better in my life."
Anticipating the store opening, Jensen himself made a few tweaks to his diet. He got rid of gluten, sticks to two juices and one solid meal a day and does a daily fasting and he's lost 48 pounds since Jan. 1.
"I wanted to lose 15 pounds, not 50," he said. "I wanted to, I just didn't think it was an attainable goal. But the amazing thing is once you get rolling with something, either good or bad ... it just sticks."
Everything offered at the 952-square-feet eatery is organic and made in house. It's also gluten, soy and dairy free and much of it is raw.
"People eat for comfort and they don't realize it," Jensen said. "All your body really is is a car and the food that you put int it is your fuel. So, when you put in inefficient fuel, it may run but it's not going to run as well."
Pulling out a gleaming metal bowl from the fridge, he showed his food for the day: Beets, carrots, parsley, beet roots and beet veins.
"I want to do more vegetable juices because that's what I live on and I feel incredible," he said.
To juice, GVO has a Norwalk juicer, a hydraulic cold press juicer that allows fruits and vegetables to maintain high levels of nutrients.
"The biggest misconception and people are always harping on this is, 'Where do you get your protein?''' Jensen said. "People don't understand when you're eating an animal, they got their protein from the plant. Just eat the plant, that's all you've got to do.
"If you combine these specific branch chain amino acids, you'll naturally create protein in your body," he said.
And, caring for yourself through eating right is where the name arises. On the website, DePaul explains he himself came from a background of big money in the music industry with all that comes with it — the parties, the drugs, the women. And, he had a change which brought him to eat vegan and he wants to offer that through GVO "so my homies can start to treat themselves with respect."
Osario added, "We fight to eat right."
Jensen offered his own view.
"I see some people say things about the name and I want them to understand the whole purpose of this and Vinny's message ... is just spreading love," he said. "I want to spread health and love and I want to show people that it's ok to try different things. Just see how you feel. Don't knock it 'til you try it ... If you look at something and just see it for what it is versus what it can be – that's not just food, that can be anything – you're missing so much of life."
Gangster Vegan Organics at 14 W. State St. in Media will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Be sure to visit its Instagram @GangsterVeganMedia and on Facebook at Gangster Vegan Organics Media.