It’s 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Near 44th and Spruce Streets at Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, hungry customers who just crawled out of their beds have already lined up by the counter to order themselves vegan food to start the morning. Behind the counter, chefs and waiters in the half–open kitchen are busy chopping vegetables, stir frying potatoes, and heating tortillas for today’s operation. Boxes of fruits and vegetables are delivered to the door. Tomatoes, beans, yams, carrots, and lentils—they are common vegetables, yet essential to Honest Tom’s Plant Based Taco Shop.
Once a taco truck that turned to brick–and–mortar seven years ago, Honest Tom’s Taco Shop made another transition this summer and announced that its menu will be 100% plant–based. The restaurant is not even trying to make anything that has the taste of meat or dairy products; when I asked the lady be the counter whether if they have anything that was “cheese–like,” she shook her head and said, “We don’t make anything like that.”
The shift in Honest Tom’s menu was prompted by the owner Tom McCusker’s own transition to veganism. “In the summer of 2017, one day I just woke up and did a five–day health care of life out of nowhere. Eating salads, going to the gym, and all that stuff. After a couple of days, I started doing a 30–day vegan thing just to see how I feel. And I just never stop after that.” He is the father of a nine–month–old son now, and his wife has become 90% vegan.
Though Tom's choice to go vegan was quite spontaneous, he continued on with the diet. Instead of cooking with pork chops, he started to explore the variety of options of using nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits in cooking dinner. Now, his everyday meals are mostly composed of fruits, and watermelon is his favorite. He never has a day where he misses meat.
This past summer, Tom decided to bring his new lifestyle to his restaurant. “Once I realized where [meat] all came from, I started realizing that I am not going to sell it any more.” He and his staff enjoy the process of experimenting with fruits and vegetables and creating new menu options. The ingredients are now seasonal and healthier, and local farms have started contacting Tom to try and get their produce on the menu. “Farms will hit us up and say, ‘we have these hot peppers,’ and so then we’ll do something with those peppers,” Tom explained the new process of sourcing food and said, “We’re kind of open to everything and searching for whatever we can get.”
Tom first conceived the idea of opening a food truck after college graduation, when he and his friends drove motorcycles from Philadelphia to Austin. It took them five days on the road and they stayed at Austin for two days. Tom said, “It was during that trip that we got the chance to eat breakfast tacos. That was my original idea of having the truck: making breakfast tacos everyday and working from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.” After he returned from Austin, he opened Honest Tom’s on Drexel’s campus. The opening hours were more flexible back then, and he would sometimes take a break if he had been too busy. Running a restaurant, however, is completely different. They have to open seven days a week, with fixed hours every day.
Yet, Tom really enjoys what he does right now. Looking ahead to the future of his restaurant, Tom is thinking about eventually moving out of the city at some point. He wants to open the restaurant at a place where he can grow food, sell it in the restaurant, and have a private space to live as well. Philadelphia has been too loud for him, and having a tract of land in the suburbs could perhaps further realize his restaurant’s principle of being plant–based, green, and healthy.