A new leaf: Jenkintown gets its first vegan restaurant

By Jack Firneno
Wire Editor

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTO Pictured left to right are Pat Durison, chef Max Josey and Dan Brightcliffe. Durison and Brightcliffe, both 24, are partners of Flora restaurant in Jenkintown.html-charsetutf-8

For two young entrepreneurs, the first three rules of restaurants are the same as those for real estate: it’s all about location, location, location.

But it’s not just about the street address, although that played an important part. For the new vegan/vegetarian restaurant Flora in Jenkintown, which opened its doors on Tuesday, it was also about knowing the right people, and having the right idea for the right neighborhood.

It’s the only eatery like it in the area. But, based on 24-year-old partners Dan Brightcliffe and Pat Durison’s experience, they think it’ll be a hit.

“I think people are going to react well to it,” said Durison.

Brightcliffe and Durison grew up together, going to the same high school and even college. They pursued different majors — journalism and nursing, respectively — but since they were teenagers they worked at Rylei in Northeast Philadelphia and more recently Leila’s Bistro in Jenkintown, both owned by Jose and Jennifer Vargas.

It’s where they got the inspiration to open their own place, but they waited until the timing — and the placement — was right.

The restaurant’s location, on Old York Road near Township Line Road, is flanked by a Mexican Grille, new Italian and Mediterranean restaurants, and a brewpub slated to open soon. It’s becoming a hot spot, they noted, but there weren’t any dedicated vegan or vegetarian establishments.

“We’d noticed in the places we worked when people would ask for vegetarian dishes,” said Brightcliffe, who also noted that those kinds of menu items also offered something different for people who aren’t vegan or vegetarian but enjoy different cooking styles.

With a solid idea for a niche and their current employers willing to help them, Brightcliffe and Durison were confident they had what they needed to open a successful restaurant.

The floor plan was important, too.

“I saw the potential right away,” said head chef Max Hosey. “Even during the interview, I started getting ideas for the space.”

At 34, he starting cooking as a teenager, and since has lived and worked everywhere from San Francisco to Dublin. After spending a summer working on a farm in Martha’s Vineyard just before getting married, he hooked up with Brightcliffe and Durison initially because he was looking to live in Jenkintown.

For Hosey, a good kitchen layout is crucial to a fulfilling job. “When you walk into a kitchen, you know what’s going to work and what’s not, and if you can make good food as easily as possible there,” he explained.

Over the years, he’s worked in places with kitchens that started on one floor and continued on another, or where he had to use a ladder to reach ingredients in the cellar. At Flora, however, he’s a got a single, almost cozy area, that he was able to lay out to his liking.

“The more you do it, the wiser you get,” Hosey explained. “I saw this and said, ‘This place is going to make me happy.’ ”

And it’s here that he’ll be cooking up vegan and vegetarian dishes that use locally grown items and draw from experiences in all those places he’s lived.

A few of the dishes for the restaurant’s opening, for example, have roots in the South. Hosey’s take on Hoppin’ Johns, a traditional dish that’s often eaten on New Year’s Day in Texas, features black-eyed peas, peppers and spices like the original, but also blackened avocado and snow peas.

For seasonal offerings, there’s sunchoke soup and a harvest salad made with locally grown greens and truffle mustard vinaigrette.

And for dessert, Hosey uses caramelized plantains and sorbet instead of bananas and ice cream for a non-dairy, bananas foster-style dessert.

“As a chef, you’re always looking around for inspiration in the places and things from your past,” he said.