Follow up: Berben and Wolff's

Berben and Wolffs Joey Berben 2017-June

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've met and covered during the last year.

A little more than a year ago, Joey Berben and Max Wolff opened a vegan restaurant on Lark Street with the goal of making food that appeals to all sorts of people -- vegan and non-vegan.

As Berben said last year, "It's just good food. Vegetable forward, plant-based food."

And it's worked. Berben and Wolff's has built a following of fans, expanded its wholesale business that sells to other restaurants, and now has an eye on expansion.

We talked with Joey Berben last week in the busy second-floor dining space that looks out onto Lark Street about drawing an eclectic crowd, staying positive, and snowballing small successes.

How have things gone since you opened?

It's been great. We haven't really had any slow periods. It's gotten increasingly busier.

There's a really good eclectic mix of people that come in. Everybody from, like, state workers to punk rockers. People's dad. Everybody.

And increasingly we've gotten a lot more families, which is interesting. We're going to be changing the menu soon and adding kind of a kids menu, because that's something that I think has been growing in demand.

That's one of the cool things about your food, that it's vegan but it appeals to a wide range of [non-vegan] people.

That's really what we're going for, a mass appeal to people. And to me, that's probably the best approach to animal advocacy and activism is letting the food speak for itself. And opening people's minds -- trying something new and liking it, then hopefully you have a good experience here and you might have a good experience elsewhere and just giving people that different perspective of vegan food.

Berben and Wolffs exterior 2017-June

What are some of the challenges that you've faced in the past year?

I think that's a tough question because we haven't really had any real setbacks or anything that's real daunting to us. A lot the stresses that we've had are positive. Things like just kind of figuring out staffing and getting busier and growing and figuring out how to approach that -- staffing, prep, things that. So I think there are worse problems to have than that.

What's something interesting or surprising or important that you've learned?

One thing that's been interesting and surprising is that we've had a really amazing amount of community support and support from different pockets of people in the community. Everybody's helping out us in whatever way they can. We get a lot of offers from different business owners, like, hey, do you want to do a pop up here or we'd like to maybe do a special with your seitan and help promote you guys. And I think that's been one of the big factors in being successful, just the tremendous level of support from the community -- not just friends and family, just people in general reaching out to us.

Berben and Wolffs counter 2017-June

Is there a frustration that you've encountered that if you could wipe it away, it'd be like, wow, things are a lot easier?

Not really. I think any frustrations that I or we have had, in the grand scheme of things, are very small. So putting that into perspective, obviously stresses and worries and things like that. I think the pros out weigh the cons, and keeping that in mind definitely helps us keep moving forward. Just staying positive and keep doing it.

Is there something that happened, or a development, that really felt like a win?

I feel like it's been since we started this, even before the restaurant opened, there's been a lot of small wins that have been snowballing. We were really excited to get our commercial kitchen and start wholesaling and get accounts and then some bigger restaurant accounts in the area. And then opening this [restaurant] was the biggest win. And I think the expansion of our wholesale -- which is something we're really trying to focus on, branching out -- anytime someone approaches us and is like, hey, we want to carry your wings or products... they're all wins.

Berben and Wolffs interior window 2017-June

What's next?

There are some expansion plans that we're not announcing quite yet. But I can safely say that we are moving forward with things and that is our plan, to really grow and to expand and reach out as far as possible -- especially with the wholesale.
____

More follow-ups
+ Follow up: Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen

Find It

Berben and Wolff's
227 Lark Street
Albany, NY 12210

Comments

I LOVE it there! And I'm a meat eater. :)

I was just here for the first time recently. It was awesome! I'm glad to see they're doing well :)

Same as Melissa, I'm a meat-eater and I love Berben and Wolffs. Anyone skeptical of the idea of a vegan deli should really go try it out. The Reuben and the Mushroom Po'boy are my favs!

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