Torie Day of Day La Soul Cafe and Grocer. Brian Conway photo.

Vegans rejoice and raise the horns: Onion Maiden has a home. The heavy metal pop-up with a focus on vegan comfort food has taken over the Sweet Peaches Catering location at 639 East Warrington Ave. and plans to open in early 2017.

They started in February 2015 and developed a following through appearances at Pittsburgh VegFest, Brewtal Beer Fest and regular brunches at Belevedere’s and Allentown’s Black Forge Coffee House, one of two heavy metal coffee shops in the city where you can find their pastries.

Co-owners Brooks Criswell, Elyse Hoffman and Diana “Dingo” Ngo say they will begin with dinner service before expanding into weekend brunch and weekday lunch service. The focus is on Asian-inspired comfort food—think the kimchi and fried onion “Kimmy Gibler” vegan dog or “Graves at Sea,” which are tots made with housemade kimchi, Korean mayo, scallion and seaweed.

Brooks Criswell, Diana “Dingo” Ngo and Elyse Hoffman. Courtesy Onion Maiden.

“Vegans still like comfort food,” says Criswell, “but it’s not always easy to find.” The larger space (they had been working out of Liliput Cafe at Pittsburgh Filmmakers) will allow them to expand their catering services as well as create the odd wedding cake.

The news adds to what was already a big year for vegan cuisine in Pittsburgh with the arrival of B52 and Apteka.

Day La Soul Cafe opening 

Two blocks down at 831 East Warrington Ave., Day La Soul Cafe will provide Allentown with a cafe and the business district’s first small grocery when it opens at the end of the month.

Entrepreneur and owner Torie Day has done most of the project by herself, including putting in new flooring and painting the interior. She credits her mentor, Joe Bute, of Hollymead Capital, with encouraging her to look for a location with two adjoining storefronts.

The grocery section will offer fresh fruits and vegetables with to-go sandwiches and other healthful options but nothing pre-packaged. “It will force people to cook,” she says.

“It’s important for low-income and urban communities to have access to the same things that everybody else does,” Day adds. She has applied for approval to accept SNAP benefits, and plans to implement a version of the “Book It” program where kids receive a free personal pan pizza in exchange for reading books.

Torie Day, owner of Day La Soul Catering and Cafe. Brian Conway photo.

The cafe offers a healthy twist on southern cuisine like chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits along with salads, soups and wraps. And it will offer handmade and homemade products from local brands in search of a wider exposure, like Cupcakes Most Wanted and Woodsides All Purpose Mustard Sauce. Day will also provide catering services.

The cafe and dining area is large enough to host cooking demonstrations as well as art exhibitions and other events. Day has spoken with Leon at nearby Leon’s Caribbean about partnering on a Saturday reggae night.

“The addition of both Onion Maiden and Day La Soul brings two affordable, sit-down dining options to East Warrington, filling a gap in evening food options for residents and visitors alike,” says Siena Kane, Allentown Business District Manager at the Hilltop Alliance.

Both businesses are recipients of the Hilltop Alliance and Allentown CDC’s business rent abatement program, which also offers marketing and outreach for new businesses and funding for exterior signage.

“What I love about Allentown most is how mixed and diverse it is,” says Day, who received funding from Bridgeway Capital and Kiva Pittsburgh. “It’s a beautiful space. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.