Nicole Marquis, founder and CEO of HipCityVeg, was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. After years of preparation, she opened the first HipCityVeg location in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. She has since expanded the business to eight locations, beginning with the opening of the first Washington, D.C., store in Chinatown in June 2016. A second restaurant opened in Dupont Circle in 2019, and a third will come to D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood this spring. The restaurants offer plant-based American classics with some innovative twists, making delicious plant-based food convenient and affordable.
Nicole also created two full-service plant-based restaurants: the sexy cocktail lounge and small plates restaurant “Charlie was a sinner.” and Bar Bombón, a Latin-inspired restaurant reminiscent of Old San Juan (a nod to her Puerto Rican heritage). Nicole and HipCityVeg have won several notable business awards, including the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Hispanic Business of the Year in 2019, the StarChefs Rising Stars Concept Award in 2019, the Best of Philly Award (three times), and the Philadelphia Business Journal‘s 40 Under 40 Award in 2017.
We’re pleased to bring her insights as a successful vegan restauranteur to our PETA Prime readers.
Why do you think it’s important to provide people with vegan versions of comfort foods?
Food is very personal—it’s deeply rooted in our family traditions, memories, holiday celebrations, and hearts. I knew when I set out to create HipCityVeg that in order to appeal to the masses, it was very important to present plant-based food in a delicious way that people were already comfortable eating, like burgers, shakes, nuggets, and fries (but with some innovative twists!).
Which HipCityVeg menu item are you most excited to share with others?
I’m so proud of our Smokehouse Burger, in part because it’s our first partnership with Beyond Meat and because it’s the item that people are blown away by the most—even those who had never considered eating a plant-based meal. It helps bring them into our stores and keeps them coming back. But I’m also really excited this spring about our crispy house-battered Chick’n nuggets, especially because they bring another element of fun and nostalgia to our menu. Who doesn’t love dipping and sharing them with friends and family and indulging the kid in you with golden nuggets that are better for the planet and its inhabitants?
How have consumers embraced your product range?
I see the joy on their faces! People who haven’t been able to eat nuggets, cheesesteaks, and crispy “chicken” sandwiches in years. Then there are all the people who are so excited about how good plant-based food can be—it’s a revelation to them that they can still enjoy their favorite foods while eating a kinder, gentler diet. And I love that they can pair a juicy, decadent burger or crispy nuggets with a light and healthy green smoothie or banana whip for dessert.
What do you think will be the most exciting vegan food trend in the next year?
Definitely plant-based nuggets—they’re another childhood favorite that you can enjoy without sacrificing texture or flavor. I think they’ll be the next meatless burger. But I’m waiting for bacon—if can master that, we’ll have breakfast in the bag.
How do you share your compassion for animals with those who aren’t so animal-friendly?
Veganism was a 10-year journey for me, so I understand that it can be a long process for others, too. I always share my compassion for animals in a positive, uplifting way. I talk about the benefits, the ease, and the convenience of being able to eat plant-based versions of your favorite foods. I never try to make people feel bad about their choices, and my motto is “attract rather than promote.” I try to be an example of a happy and joyous person following a vegan lifestyle, and I find that brings people along with me on the journey.
Any advice for someone wanting to start a vegan business?
You need to create the best business in your segment of the industry—not just the best vegan business. You have to be ready to compete with nonvegan brands in order to succeed. My advice for anyone looking to start any business is to make a detailed plan. When you put your ideas on paper, they become real, and you can work out the challenges and opportunities. You also need to have a deep, burning desire to get into that business. I always recommend that people read The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It helped me so much in making sure my values and desires align with the hard, hard work.