By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
BOYERTOWN >> The community is invited to come aboard a unique train experience that includes a nutritious vegan meal during a scenic ride on the Colebrookdale Railroad.
Firefly Café, an all-vegan restaurant in Boyertown, will provide plant-based dishes for guests on the train in a four-part series. The first vegan dinner train ride of the year will be April 22 to coincide with Earth Day. The all-vegan, gluten-free menu includes quinoa salad, roasted chickpea bake with pesto and raw key lime cheesecake. Tickets for the special train excursion are on sale now at the Colebrookdale Railroad website. There will be two more vegan train rides offered during the summer and then one in the fall as well.
Loriann Wade, who owns the Firefly café with husband Michael Martinez, said the vegan train ride they did last year in November sold out in about a week. She said people even came from Maryland and New Jersey to participate. Wade said it’s difficult to find excursions such as the railroad that cater to the dietary needs of vegans which it what makes the experience so special. She said a vegan train ride isn’t something that’s common so people in the area, vegans and non-vegans alike, were “eager” to find such an opportunity.
Doug Horvat, Colebrookdale Railroad assistant director, said the first time the historic local train partnered with the Firefly Café was last summer during the train’s dinner and a show series. He said tickets sold out quickly and they saw there was a demand for it.
“It was an indication to us that there’s a market out there for that,” Horvat said.
He said the railroad was happy they could partner with a local food provider for the unique experience. The Firefly Café opened just last year but has quickly become a popular restaurant in the area with favorites like vegan mac and cheese, avocado toast and a vegan ‘pulled-pork’ sandwich.
Wade grew up in Boyertown then lived in New York for several years before she returned last year to open the restaurant. She saw there was a need for a vegan food option in the area. Once the Firefly Café was established, it was her idea to partner with the local tourist train ride.
“The Colebrookdale Railroad is a huge part of our town. We definitely just wanted to be a part of that,” Wade said.
She said people were really interested in the event because it added a vegan aspect to an already interesting activity. Since Wade just returned to Boyertown last year, her first experience on the Colebrookdale Railroad was when they did the first vegan train ride last summer.
“It was pretty amazing. We just loved it,” she said.
Passengers on the Colebrookdale Railroad Secret Valley Line ride on a round-trip and scenic route from Boyertown to Pottstown. Throughout the year, the railroad does several featured excursions such as the vegan ride on Earth Day. Horvat said the vegan dinner train is part of the railroad’s whole Earth Day celebration. Earlier that day, there will be a Mudball Express where passengers will toss ecologically correct mudballs off the train to better the earth.
Wade said by partnering with the local railroad, Firefly Café is helping to bring people to the area so they see all that Boyertown has to offer.
“We’ve had some opportunities to maybe branch out and go to other towns but we really just wanted to keep it local and to keep the attention focused here,” she said.
Wade isn’t the only one that recognizes Boyertown as place to be visited. In January, the travel website GatewayMavens.com listed Boyertown on the “20 Most Popular Towns in Northeast USA in 2016.”
“At number four, we’re right after Martha’s Vineyard,” said Adrianne Blank, main street manager of Building a Better Boyertown.
Building a Better Boyertown, or BBB, is a non-profit organization focused on downtown revitalization. Blank said the popular towns list was based on google analytics and how often people were searching Boyertown online.
“That was because of the revitalization effort, the Colebrookdale Railroad and all their promotions,” she said.
Blank said there are so many good things going on in Boyertown such as the theatre, art glass studio, vehicle museum and more. She said there’s even a new website, VisitBoyertownPA.com, that a group of merchants put together because of all the interest in the town. The Getaway Mavens website includes both the Colebrookdale Railroad and the Firefly Café as need-to-see attractions in Boyertown.
Blank said as far as she knows, no other towns with historic tourist railroads are doing a vegan train ride. She said the vegan ride adds to the luxury and historic niche of Boyertown and the railroad.
“This is really unique to Boyertown and it’s really unique because of having the tourist railroads and then having the partnership of the vegan café collaborating together,” she said.
Wade said there are a lot of cool things happening in Boyertown and more to come. A few months ago, the Firefly Café went from featuring a few vegetarian options to going completely vegan.
“It’s a symbolic change for a lot of people who feel strongly about veganism. It’s a change that brought us a lot more support,” she said.
Making the restaurant all-vegan went along with other plans they have for the healthy eatery, Wade said. She said the space next door to the café will be used to open a vegan general store. The store will sell artisan vegan cheeses, eco-friendly products and other vegan offerings. Wade hopes to have the store opened by the end of the summer or early fall.
“I think it’s going to be very cool and people seem very excited about it,” she said.
The Firefly Café is located at 12 N. Reading Avenue in Boyertown. People can stay up to date about the vegan restaurant through their Facebook page www.facebook.com/fireflycafeboyertown or the website fireflycafeboyertown.com. For more about the Colebrookdale Railroad and train excursions, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/colebrookdalerailroad or the website www.colebrookdalerailroad.com.