Photo Credit: Jamel Mosely
Creative Under 40 Story: By David King and Katie Cusak
Joey Berben: Busy lifestyle filling days and nights ‘just happens’
ALBANY – Joey Berben isn’t exactly an easy guy to peg. At first glance he might look like just the successful entrepreneur behind the celebrated vegan eatery Berben and Wolff’s Vegan Delicatessen. But Berben isn’t your stereotypical entrepreneur. With years dedicated to the punk scene, time invested in multiple bands including his current surf rock project The Jagaloons and his punk/hardcore group Aggressive Response, Berben represents an amalgamation of interests, lifestyles and creative pursuits.
His creativity as a chef birthed a number of celebrated recipes including seitan wings, BBQ pulled jackfruit and the Big Max (a massive vegan version of a McDonald’s Big Mac). His dedication to the local punk scene has kept venues full and given a generation or two a place to discover bands. His latest endeavor, the booking collective Crisis Isolation, in conjunction with a number of local scene veterans, looks to bring the kinds of touring punk, hardcore and metal bands you might normally have to travel to Boston or New York City to see to Capital Region stages and pair them with local talent.
How does Berben balance his multiple pursuits—days at the restaurant and nights on stage? He doesn’t really think about it. It just is. “This is just who I am,” he says. “I do it all because I love it. It’s not like I set out to be doing something every minute. It just happens.”
The menu at Berben and Wolff’s has earned praise from across the culinary world—vegan and non-vegan alike. Their products appear at several local restaurants and their wholesale business for meat substitute products has grown by leaps and bounds.
Berben recalls offering to take over the lease from the former occupant of their current Lark Street location and being caught off guard when they accepted. “We didn’t have anything. We weren’t ready at all. But we got ready,” he says.
Last August, Berben and Wolff ’s opened their second location at 156 Fourth St. in Troy. It speaks to the fact that many local vegans swear by the place, as do many prominent touring musicians who stop there for a bite. So, do a host of non-vegans who eat at the restaurant because it offers tasty food.
“I don’t think people really think about it too much,” says Berben referring to the vegan label. “So much of this is mainstream now, with the Impossible Burger, people are just coming here because they like how our food tastes.”Joey Berben