Healthy and tasty. That’s the goal that motivated Alfoncie Bethea Austin to take some of Philadelphia’s best eats and make them palatable for the health conscious. Today she’s known throughout the “city of brotherly love” for her “Philly Veggie Steaks,” a vegetarian version of the famous (and fattening) Philly Cheesesteaks. “It’s one of my biggest sellers,” explains the owner of The Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar, located in downtown’s Reading Terminal Market.
Her journey to the old train station started in 1970 when she joined her husband as a member of Allegheny East’s Ebenezer church. Members soon noticed that Austin, a hospital food services administrator, brought delicious dishes to church functions. When they asked her to serve as hospitality leader, she confessed that she didn’t know how to make vegetarian food. With the advice “Just convert your recipes,” Austin began experimenting. In 1981, when she heard about the opportunity to open a business at the station, she too a leap of faith. Now homemade veggie burgers, soya chicken salad, carrot tuna salad, soya chicken croquettes, breakfast scrapple, and vegan sweet potato pie, etc., are popular menu items.
Recently hundreds of long-time customers and supporters, including Philadelphia health czar Gwen Foster, gathered at the snack bar for Austin’s 25th anniversary celebration. “She’s filling a real need to provide vegetarian, gourmet cuisine that appeals to every culture,” Foster said. And it tastes good too!