Flatbelly Veg started as a food truck in April 2021, and now has moved to a storefront on Bethlehem Pike.
Flatbelly Veg started as a food truck in April 2021, then moved to the Flourtown Farmers Market for a year and a half, and now the business has moved to a storefront on Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim.
The family-owned restaurant, in the strip of shops between the CVS Pharmacy and the Flourtown Car Wash, is run by Josh Pope, his wife, Sheila, and their daughter, Jordan, who all reside in Mt. Airy.
“My wife and I were driving by this location and said, wouldn’t that be a good location to open a store,” Josh Pope said as he was busy making Avocado Toast for a customer who had wandered in.
Pope worked in the graphic arts field for many years, using that experience to design a perky awning and graphics throughout the storefront, which has vivid yellow tables and chairs that brighten the restaurant’s outdoor eating area.
“I have been a vegan for 12 years and food is just part of my lifestyle. People were always curious about what I eat and how I eat, so I parlayed that into an actual business,” said Pope, who has been teaching cooking classes through Mt. Airy Learning Tree for three years. “I just like to have fun with food. We started the food truck in 2020 and it just took off. We saw this storefront and we thought it was small enough to manage and took a leap of faith to move here.”
On his blog, also called “Flatbelly Veg,” Pope recounts his journey while working late at night in his graphic arts studio.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” the blog entry starts, “July 4, 2011 another late night in my studio. It was around midnight when I stumbled across the documentary ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.’ A documentary about a middle-aged man who grew tired of dealing with multiple health challenges. The documentary revealed that food was both the problem and the solution. Suddenly the stars started to align, the angels began singing and for the first time I felt empowered about reclaiming my health.”
He goes on to explain he was in a continuous battle with diabetes, weight gain and low self-esteem.
“I had become another African American male who ate poorly and didn’t exercise. Chronic disease had become a close friend.”
After watching the documentary, Pope found himself in front of a full-length mirror and stood there crying about what he had let himself become. At that moment I declared, “I will never be this person again.”
The next day he purchased a juicer and juice fasted for 30 days and slowly introduced healthy foods – no meat, fish, dairy or any animal products – to his vegan diet.
Ten years later, and 70 pounds lighter, he started conducting cooking class demos, speaking at community events, interviews, and posting on social media to his over 40,000 followers.
“Now Flatbelly Veg is on a community education campaign with one mission: to encourage others to embrace good health for themselves, the community and our planet,” Pope wrote on his blog.
Former Chestnut Hill resident Jake Perch stumbled upon the store after visiting his mother in Flourtown.
“It caught my eye and while I’m not vegan, I've been trying to eat healthier foods,” Perch said.
The store, whose motto is “Plants on a Plate,” sells vegan wraps, sandwiches, bowls, smoothies, sides of vegan macaroni and cheese and sweet treats.
“We’ve had quite a following from people using social media and word of mouth,” said Sheila Pope as she was tidying up the sleek black counter in front of the store.
Josh Pope is working with the Chicago-based Oak Street Health services to bring their knowledge of vegan cooking to nonprofit organizations in the Philadelphia area. In 2019, Josh Pope had the idea of doing a huge Veg Fest in the Soup Kitchen Factory in Philadelphia. It was a big hit and the Popes later participated in the Lancaster VegFest where lines for the healthy fare were long. He ran the soup factor studio… ran it and created the events at that studio and the urban Veg Fest. He created and did the vergan sausage making workshop which i created and produced. The studio is now fest
“We are trying to teach seniors ways to eat better on a budget,” said Pope, whose Mt. Airy Learning Tree class with lessons on making vegan sausage has been filled to capacity.
His next pitch is to the American Vegan Center in Center City.
“Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone,” Pope said, “but it’s very rewarding.”
Flatbelly Veg will be participating with the Kale Blazers and other area fitness groups in a 3-mile walk/run on Sunday, Sept. 10. Participants can sign up at the store for the walk which begins at Forbidden Drive and Northwestern Avenue at 8 a.m. Sign-up comes with a wristband offering a free post-race smoothie.
Flatbelly Veg, at 1020 Bethlehem Pike, is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information and a full menu go to flatbellyveg.com or contact 445-221-8472.
Barbara Sherf lives and writes in Flourtown. She can be reached at Capture Life Stories@gmail.com