Latino immigrant family to open first vegan deli at Reading Terminal Market
The City of Brotherly “LUHV” will be getting its fill of vegan goodness thanks to the Luccis, who have already made their mark in the city and throughout the region with their family-owned business.
The purpose of LUHV Food is, as co-owner Silvia Lucci sees it, to provide a whole lot of love — through homemade, heartfelt vegan food. And their recipes have been proven a success in Philadelphia and throughout the region.
Since Silvia and her husband Daniel Lucci, both immigrants from Argentina, along with their son Facundo Lucci started LUHV Food in March 2015, the line of vegan products has taken off. With a restaurant in Hatboro, products sold at major retailers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and a soon-to-open permanent vegan deli in the historic Reading Terminal Market that will be the first of its kind in Philadelphia, the Luccis have proven that their plant-based, energizing foods are in high demand.
But as unlikely as it may be for such a successful enterprise, the Luccis say that the LUHV didn’t start out as a calculated business proposal. It instead grew out of their family’s own struggle to overcome financial and health troubles, and the journey towards a vegan lifestyle that they embarked on in order to confront those challenges.
In 2012, the family “was in turmoil,” said Facundo. Silvia had suffered from a mild stroke, Daniel had been having heart problems, and one of the family’s two restaurants was going into bankruptcy due to the financial recession of 2008.
“Like any Spanish family, we are very family-oriented, and when that happened to me it’s like the whole family fell apart,” Silvia said. “We lost everything.”
In the midst of these struggles, a friend introduced Daniel to veganism. He tried it out and it took hold, with Silvia then also deciding to switch to a vegan diet because of the “health door” as she describes it, so that the food she ate while recovering from her stroke “would be healing.”
After becoming vegan, Daniel started making the black bean burger he would eat himself, and put it on his menu at the family’s restaurant in Newtown, PA, which they have run for over 20 years. To their surprise, the customers went wild for it and the other vegan specials the Luccis began to introduce at their restaurant. Facundo then left his job at a recording studio in New York to come down to Philadelphia to help his parents launch LUHV foods and support his three younger siblings.
In 2015 the Luccis began to sell their packaged products in local stores and eventually with larger retailers like Whole Foods. After winning the People’s Choice Award at the 2016 Philadelphia Farm and Food Festival for their black bean burger, they connected with Reading Terminal Market representative Layla El Tannir and met with Anuj Gupta, manager of Reading Terminal Market, who offered them a spot at a day cart to begin selling their goods in Nov. 2017.
Having a permanent home at the 125-year-old market is a dream come true for the Luccis, who will also be the first South American vendors to own an establishment there.
“Any small business around the area is like, ‘Oh yeah I would love to be at Reading Terminal’... It just seems like a far away thing,” said Facundo.
Expected to open in early August, LUHV vegan deli will sell vegan cheese by the slice, energy soups, vegan tuna salad, the famous black bean burger that jump-started their success, and more.
“I always say that the worst thing that happened to us, it became the best thing to happen to us. We decided to live a more wholesome life. We started with veganism and it just went to everything we did,” said Silvia, adding that the tools that she and Daniel had honed as immigrants also helped them to recover from the financial setback.
Facundo, who is also vegan, said that as a lifestyle veganism has many intangible benefits.
“Once you start doing that, you’re starting a path of self care, so you’re investing in yourself more than most people do,” said Facundo, adding that this path then leads to meeting a diverse group of people who are also vegan, many of whom “are people that have gone through a struggle.”
Facundo and Silvia noted that their customers often tell them what LUHV’s food means to them in the context of those struggles.
“So many people have come to the place and said my mom has cancer, my aunt is in the hospital,” said Silvia, explaining that products like the energy soup — made with kale, white beans, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, and seaweed — are for some of their customers more than just a meal; they are medicinal.
With a philosophy focused on “eliminating the middleman,” LUHV aims to work with an array of flavors and vegetables for their plant-based products. For example, Silvia explained, the fish flavor that we associate with tuna actually comes from the seaweed that the fish eat. By using seaweed for the nutritional and flavor aspect in LUHV’s tuna salad, customers are satisfied with both the taste and the health benefits they expect with actual tuna salad.
But, Facundo and Silvia stress, vegan food really can be for everyone, and even a few vegan meals here and there can make a difference for your health and the environment.
“It’s about just being conscious of the way you eat, what you do to yourself, and what you do to the planet. You don’t have to be vegan all the time but if you start becoming conscious that it’s the best you can do for yourself,” Silvia said.
The company’s next step in practicing the “act of giving,” which Silvia said is an inherent part of the vegan lifestyle, will be serving their food to those most in need. In May, LUHV received a $10,000 award from Citizens Bank to invest in the company and launch an initiative that would contribute to the community. Facundo said that as of now they are hoping to be able to donate around 200 meals a month to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen in Philadelphia, although they have not yet selected a partner.
“The ones that are getting the least are the ones that need it the most,” said Silvia, referring to homeless people. “Who needs this very high level nutritional food [more] than people that are at their weakest?”
Though they also consider it as an acronym for Lucci’s Healthy Vegan food, Silvia said that the company’s name really is about love.
“The most incredible humanity, I don’t think it comes from discoveries, it comes from what humans can do for others,” she said.