Photo courtesy of Botanical Vegan Cafe and Market.

Grace Affeltranger cares about your health and well-being. So on March 2, 2020, she opened Botanical Vegan Café & Market in Aspinwall.

Her plan was to sell nutrient-rich food and beverages to fellow plant lovers and provide a bar-like atmosphere where they could mingle with mocktails. Her proximity to UPMC St. Margaret was a boon to business.

You don’t have to sacrifice your health to be social, she thought.

The pandemic changed that mentality.

Affeltranger overhauled her plan and spent most of the pandemic flying solo behind the counter at 209 Commercial Ave. in Aspinwall. Historically, the location has always housed some type of juice bar but didn’t offer enough healthy bites to go along with the drinks.

Photo courtesy of Botanical Vegan Café and Market.

Her menu, which is also gluten- and nut-free, boasts fresh juices, smoothies, frozen bowls, shots, parfaits, botanical spritzers, hummus, soups, salads and various kinds of toast. Customers can also take advantage of seasonal specials and stock up on packaged products, such as oil, vinegar, olives and plant-based jerky and sweets.

The shelves and coolers are stocked with many local brands, including Café Chocolade’s sunflower-based cheeses. Vegan, gluten-free charcuterie boards are a big hit.

The space itself is filled with as many leafy greens as there are on the menu, like a jungle oasis in the heart of Aspinwall.

“I love entertaining,” Affeltranger says. “That’s what I love most about having a store. It’s fun to have people over, talk to them and feel good while doing it.”

You don’t have to flash a vegan membership card to enter Botanical Café. Folks who are on the fence about changing their eating habits are welcome to stop by for advice, not lectures. They don’t have to change their lifestyle, just add healthier eats to their normal routine.

Affeltranger tells skeptics to imagine their body is a brand-new Porche and then asks them if they would fill the gas tank with 87 octane or premium fuel?

Photo courtesy of Botanical Vegan Café and Market.

Affeltranger grew up in Sewickley and her mother took a very holistic approach to health. Veggies were revered for their energy-boosting and restorative powers. While her friends were chowing down on Happy Meals from McDonald’s (and feeling sluggish afterward), Affeltranger was reading books on antioxidants and pressure points.

Affeltranger went to college in Chicago and then moved to Nashville, where she managed a popular juice bar.

Inspired to open her own shop, she moved back to Pittsburgh, a city that’s slowly warming up to veganism.

In addition to opening a business in a pandemic year, Affeltranger also lost her mother — and biggest supporter — in 2020. About to become a mom herself, she’s committed now more than ever to helping people find happiness through plant-based foods.

Look for Botanical Café pop-ups around town at gyms, yoga studios and farmers’ markets and at the Pittsburgh VegFest on Aug. 21.

In the near future, Affeltranger will open a larger location that will be more aligned with her original plan of creating an alcohol-free lounge environment complete with bartenders slinging vitamin shots instead of whiskey and servers delivering nourishing fare.

“I just want to offer people a place where they feel welcome, can ask questions and try new things,” she says.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.