Our B Corp Pioneer this week is PS & Co, an organic, gluten-free, vegan, kosher parve cafe/restaurant whose flagship location is in Rittenhouse. We sat down with founder and owner, Andrea, to talk to her about her passion for healing through food, the importance of genuity, how B Corps can impact the restaurant industry, and her favorite Philly treat!
We immediately knew Andrea was the real deal because of her honesty and total transparency about Pure Sweets' practices and responsibilities. We hope you can hear her sass in this interview because she's a fireball coming to change the restaurant industry in Philly...
What made you start this business?
There are so many chronic diseases happening in this country that can be prevented by your diet. People often ask me if I always wanted to do this and I say, “No, I wanted to become a doctor.” [The typical] model as a successful doctor is that you prescribe medicine and you instigate a lot of treatments. That's the business model of the healthcare system. That's fixing the problem after-- it's not preventing the problem and you're not rewarded for preventative medicine. And I thought ‘Well, what's the point of being a doctor, if I'm not going to be able to fit into their system?’ This is my way of being, in a sense, a food doctor. If I can help people understand what makes you feel good and your body working efficiently, then I hope they can take that information and start incorporating it into their daily lifestyle.
A burning desire I've always had is to relieve suffering in some way and I didn't know how that way was going to be. I always was interested in health and wellness; nutrition, fitness, and living a healthy lifestyle as a preventive form of medicine. This operation is my way of hopefully making an impact on public-health level.
What sets your Pure Sweets & Co. apart from others?
We are a gateway food. We're here to introduce something to peak their interest, and then hopefully spark people to incorporate it for themselves. Because I can't change anyone, they have to change themselves. That's why we have a beautiful space. I want them to feel good when they're in here from all senses. It's a beautiful space, the music is good, our staff is extremely friendly here. I hope they can smell the foods coming out the kitchen, and then they’ve got the taste factor too. If they walk away associating healthy food with all those positive sensory reactions, I'm hoping it's something that encourages them to keep up a day-to-day basis.
There’s such a movement towards healthy eating right now. I feel a lot of places are jumping onto the bandwagon, but they're not truly organic, they’re not truly healthful. They may be vegan, but it's junk-food vegan, and a lot of people have this impression it’s good for them. It's not! Just be honest with what you're doing and that's all I ask for. Be transparent to customers and to someone like us who is going 100% organic, compostable, and all these things that cost money [means something]. We are in a separate realm and I don't want us to be confused with what other businesses are trying to do because they think we're competing against each other, but were not.
I am vegan personally and the food I am selling here is the most nutrient-dense food and beverage we can manage to execute. We focus on quality of ingredients and flavors. Things everyone cares about, whether you are vegan or not, so it can reach a larger mass. I don't think that there are enough vegans in Philadelphia to make this concept work. Delicious, healthy food is what's going to catch onto a larger demographic.
The most rewarding part of running a business:
Seeing the staff grow. That has been the most rewarding. Seeing customers come in and saying, ‘Thank you, I haven’t been able to eat out in the past several years since I've gone A) gluten-free, B) non-GMO/organic, C) I have all of these digestive problems.’ But here they can find something.
Also, we made a commitment to be able to accommodate dietary restrictions, so even if we don't have something, we make sure that we can make it for them on the spot. I don't want anyone to ever feel embarrassed or guilty for putting us out of our way; we're here to serve you. You are never putting us out of our way.
The most challenging part of running a business:
Staffing as well..same answers, and customers! (Laughs.) Staffing gets difficult because there’s such a high turnover in this business and you're constantly training. Each time we're training new people, mistakes happen and that's where the inconsistencies in service and food quality arise. It's about staying one step ahead to catch mistakes before customers do. And mistakes aren't always bad, it’s usually a great learning experience and opportunity to create something positive out of a potential disaster. As long as we don't repeat the same mistakes, I'm not hard on the staff. As long as they learn, and we all learn, it was worth the headache.
For customers, it makes me in awe of people who do run restaurants because everybody is so different and you're trying to please the general trend. You can't please everybody, but you want to please the majority. It's so funny how customers will come in and say ‘I think you should do it this way,’ or ‘I think this, I think that,’ and they think their opinion is what everyone else feels. So it's learning and looking at the trends, and not taking all the feedback you get and constantly changing it because that could backfire.
Most important lesson learned in running a business:
Listening to your gut feeling. It's true. Nobody can tell you how to run your business besides you as a person who started it because you know the long-term vision, you know the foundation better than anyone else coming in, even people with more background restaurant experience! If you have a vision and it's an idea that stayed through with you through all the trials and tribulations, it probably meant that you're supposed to stick with it.
How has the B Corp certification helped your business?
In 2012, I wanted to see how many certifications I could qualify for. So I paid for the gluten-free certification, the kosher certification, the B Corp certification, and I found all of them to be not worth the cost with the exception of the B Corp (it is not that expensive). I'm already gluten-free, I'm already kosher, I'm not cheating on those standards because our whole kitchen operates that way. They would have an audit, and then I would have to pay for the audit, that's not even included in certification, and I'm like why am I paying you? I don't need any regulation because I'm more strict than your standards are. But for B Corp I knew that they had a lot of incentives, so if I took advantage of other people's services I would get a discount. It would even out the costs, but I didn't really take advantage of the services on my end.
But I would love to meet more B Corps! People who know B Corps take us more seriously because we are [met rigorous standards]. But I don't know how many people know about it in the city.
How can it help others in this industry?
It would be nice to see that B Corp seal grow enough where, if you don't have a B Corp seal, you are not following through. So, for these companies that say they're sustainable, they're organic, they’re local but it's more like a few ingredients are organic, local whenever they feel like it, and sustainable in what way? People throw these words around but I don't think they really follow through. And it would be nice if B Corp became that standard seal like the USDA organic where if they don't see it, they may you.
Any events that we should know about that we can promote?
Thursday Night Dinners: Five courses, unlimited cold press mixers (BYO)
Weekend Brunches: Two courses, unlimited cold press mixers (BYO)
People are going nuts over pancakes and "bacon"! And these are not tasting portions: each course is a full-size course. It's a lot of food.
And I'm looking forward to being a meeting space for groups and events. I'm willing to offer the space as long as people who come in patron the restaurant: that's it. [I want to] have it be a place where discussion arises and people can learn things from each other.
How would you describe B Corps in 3 words?
Socially-conscious, sustainable, civic-minded. I love what they stand for.
Philly treat of choice?
Franklin Fountain coconut ice cream. I love the experience more than anything!
Mode of transportation around the city?
Bike. I do have a Prius, but I try to bike as much as I can.
Andrea and all the other B Corp Pioneers have so much passion to drive this movement so while this may be the end of August and our pilot of Campaign for New B's, we're not done. We will be exploring other industries and their potential for the B Corp certification. Make sure you follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to get the most up-to-date information.