If you were told that, up until now, Berkeley didn’t have an all-vegan store, would you be shocked? You would probably say, “Come on, no way. With vegans and vegetarians becoming nearly as prevalent as meat-eaters, the beloved food collective on Bancroft, the prominence of the Berkeley Bowl and a city attuned to the food and animal welfare movements — how could Berkeley not have an all-vegan store?”
Well, there wasn’t an all-vegan store in Berkeley, or even the East Bay, until last month. Republic of V — which opened Feb. 19 — on University Avenue has come into the picture, the first all-vegan store in the entire East Bay, so now you can indulge all your vegan culinary fantasies.
Once you enter Republic of V, you’ll see it is stocked with multiple shelves of snacks and an assortment of beverages, with refrigerated frozen food lining one wall and knick-knacks such as jewelry, produce tote bags and skincare products lining another. Essentially, this store would probably come off as no different from any other store with a number of additional things to offer — until you take a closer look. Chai cola? Vegetarian fruit snacks? Vegan crab cakes? Suddenly, Republic of V proves it’s definitely more than your typical spot for a few vegan frozen items or bag of macaroons.
Preparing an official grand opening for March 16, Republic of V is young and yet already has some ecstatic and positive feedback on Yelp from its earliest customers, some of them already promising to faithfully frequent the store. This is hardly surprising, considering the vast array of options and products the store offers: nut-based cheeses, grain-based meats, frozen items, vegan beverages, vegan candy, even vegan and vegetarian dog chow. Apart from food, Republic of V also has cookbooks, makeup, skincare products, ceramics and clothing with animal-friendly messages written on it, such as items encouraging the rescue of abused and distressed dogs.
The two owners, Joe Haptas and Noelle Callahan, both long-time vegans and passionate animal advocates, decided to come to Berkeley after seeing, with some surprise, that there was not yet a vegan store in the area. Haptas was already a veteran businessman who started his first successful vegan store in Seattle in 2006 with two other partners. Together, Haptas and Callahan started planning Republic of V in December 2013, which included lengthy research and personal sampling of numerous products.
Berkeley stood out as the potential home of Republic of V because of the reputed vegan community, according to Callahan. However, she was also quick to point out that the store hopes to cater to a variety of foodies, not just vegans. “We really want to not just have the vegans come in and the vegetarians, but engage everybody to come in — provide a fun atmosphere that’s inclusive, not exclusive, which is actually why we didn’t include ‘vegan’ in the name.”
Sure enough, it was the right move to make. Callahan has expressed delight in seeing the support and enthusiasm surrounding Republic of V’s existence. Apparently, various customers have been popping into the store and personally thanking the two owners for establishing a comprehensive niche where vegans can freely select from a wide variety of options.
According to Callahan, Republic of V is also committed to serving the nonprofit sector of the East Bay region and beyond through active advertisement of nonprofits’ events to its incoming customers and stocking some products that give back to nonprofits. This is reflected on the corkboard on the wall, where nonprofits and advocates for animal welfare are encouraged to post fliers and bulletin news about upcoming events and demonstrations.
Getting to Republic of V is somewhat of a longer-than-usual bus ride from campus, but it is definitely a store worth visiting. Unlike many other specialized grocery stores, the prices are affordable and reasonable, and its focus extends beyond merely providing the community with food that is delicious, creative and supports animal welfare and “a better world,” as the store prints on its receipts. It is also about the individual people in the community — such as one woman who told Callahan, “‘I saw this sign, and I almost crashed my car!'” — who come in and are pleased and surprised to find the Republic of V has been established.
Contact Eunice Choi at [email protected].