Alfoncie B. Austin, a pioneer of vegan cuisine in Philadelphia, died on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. She was 94.
She was the first African American business owner in the Reading Terminal Market.
She was born on Oct. 6, 1924 in Fairmount, North Carolina. She was the seventh of eight children born to the union of Kay and Mamie Bethea. After finishing her formative years of education in the public school system at Rosenwald High School, she migrated North in search of economic opportunities.
Her first stop was the metro Washington, DC area, where she stayed with her sister Geraldine. She flourished in DC and became ensconced in the social fabric of the day. She served as a USO Girl, giving support to the troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services to the men in uniform. Austin was also a part of many other organizations throughout the city.
Even though she was a social butterfly, she maintained two jobs at this time. She worked full time as a government clerk during the day and worked part time selling How and Why Readers Mental Development Magazines door to door.
She wanted to pursue a career in dietetics, so she moved to New York with her sister, Geraldine and attended the New York Institute of Dietetics. It was here where she gained knowledge about nutrition to support her innate talent of food preparation.
After getting her degree as a dietician, Austin moved to Illinois to stay with her sister, Elease and to begin her career as a dietician at Michael Reese Hospital. While surviving the cold winters of Chicago, she met and married Philip F. Austin.
The Austin family stayed in the Midwest a few years and then the call came from the dietary department of Hahnemann Hospital. They moved to Philadelphia where they finally settled.
Her husband introduced her to the Seventh-day Adventist message at Shiloh SDA Church in Chicago, Illinois. When they moved to Philadelphia, they attended Ebenezer SDA Church. After attending Ebenezer on Saturday and Saint Matthew AME Church on Sundays, she joined the Adventist church in 1970.
Through the years, Austin served the church as a missionary volunteer leader, hospitality leader, Fifty Plus member and Sabbath School member.
During the summer, she and her husband would take at risk youth from the city to the mountains of Pennsylvania. They had camp (Camp Skippy and Camp Oak Hill) for two weeks each summer. She was instrumental in shaping the lives of these youth and aiding them in establishing some direction in life.
When she was at Hahnemann, Austin moved up the ranks in the Dietary department, until she retired in 1989 as one of the associate directors of dietary. While working at Hahnemann Hospital, she was presented with an opportunity in 1981 to open the Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar at Reading Terminal Market.
As the operator of the first African American-owned business in the terminal, Austin overcame many of the challenges that were in her path.
She was considered a pioneer in the area of vegan cuisine, because she was doing it at a time when healthy eating was not popular. The line at her snack bar was long for the “Original Vegan Philly Cheesesteak” which was featured on the Oprah show.
Many prominent individuals such as President Bill Clinton, Mayor John Street, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, The Roots, Musiq Soulchild and Floetry clamored for Austin’s inventive menu items.
She retired from the business after 34 years to do catering.
Austin was a staunch health advocate. She stayed on the cutting edge by continuing education and certifications to provide her customers with the best opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle through diet. For many years she would dedicate two weeks to the Fitness Camp of the Allegheny East Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
She was the first chef of the camp under the director, Gwendolyn Foster, the former Philadelphia health czar.
Even after retiring to run her catering business, Austin continued to be recognized for her contributions healthy eating by making personal appearances at vegan events.
In November of 2018, the vegan community honored her as a pioneer of the vegan/vegetarian movement in Philadelphia.
She is survived by: her children, Elissa Tynes (Bernard) and Shannon P. Austin (Shirley); grandchildren, Julani S. Kwame and Kalif L. Jumari; niece and nephews, Mildred Bethea, Glenn Wilson and Walter Kay Hardin; goddaughter and family, Lisa Leveque (Thomas Leveque) and Grayson Leveque; best friends, Annie Lou Laurel, Mable Oglesby, Byronette Watson, Edith Fariera and Ervin T. Glenn Sr. and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held Aug. 4 at Ebenezer Seventh Day Adventist Church, 1437 Christian St. Viewing is at 3 p.m. Services will follow at 5 p.m.