Cupcake specialists Allison and Matt Robicelli are back in NYC — sort of. The husband-wife duo that relocated to Baltimore after closing their popular Bay Ridge bakery in 2015 are now long-distance co-owners of two projects in New York: Rip’s Malt Shop, a vegan “junk food” restaurant, and Revolućion de Taco, a new name for local chain Oaxaca Taqueria.
“It was an accident,” Allison says of their return to the NYC dining scene. Before they left NYC, they signed a big franchise deal for their bakery Robicelli’s. Then Matt got “really, really sick,” she says. He was ultimately diagnosed the rare autoinflammatory disease called Still’s disease, and as a result, he’s unable to eat dairy, flour, and sugar and has other dietary restrictions. “Pretty much everything we made at the bakery, he cannot eat anymore,” Allison says.
She and Matt then jumped into a new franchise plan, teaming up with their friends David Schneider and Patty Wu, the owners of NYC taco chain Oaxaca Taqueria. The Robicellis signed on as co-owners and are helping the chain expand nationally, rebranding it as Revolućion de Taco come February. The more than dozen locations in New York will also change names, along with a revamped menu.
At the same time as this deal was unfolding, Schneider told Allison and Matt about a vegan concept he was working on with Eric Castro, which has become Rips, located at 10 Clermont Ave. at Flushing Avenue near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“It was pretty interesting to me because at home, we eat a mostly vegan diet,” Allison says. “And now, especially with Matt and his health problems, most of our dinners are entirely vegetable-based, but we still kind of miss junk food a lot.” She thinks vegan meat substitutes have come a long way since she was a vegetarian in high school and college when “nothing tasted as good back then,” she says.
In addition to Schneider, Wu, and Castro, the Robicellis have teamed up with former Rao’s chef David Schaap for the restaurant, which Allison describes as a vegan Five Guys-style, make-your-own-burger joint where plant-based burgers and hot dogs are served with customizable toppings. There’s also a vegan take on the NYC bodega staple, the chopped cheese.
The burgers come from LA-based vegan meat substitute producer Beyond Meat, the hot dogs come from Field Roast, and Van Leeuwen provides the vegan ice cream. The veggie bacon is made in-house, along with a vegan “Cheez Whiz,” mix-ins for the milkshakes and ice cream, and baked goods — including a vegan version of the Robicelli’s popular chocolate chip cookies. There’s also beer and rose on tap, and the space has casual summer vibes, featuring a backyard with corn hole.
“We’re not health freaks,” Allison says of the team’s philosophy toward vegan dining. “There’s no judgement. There’s no people coming in and me lecturing you for 20 minutes about how we’re vegan. We wanted to make vegan food that everybody would want to eat.”
Because of Matt’s health, the duo is staying in Baltimore for now, and Allison commutes to NYC every three weeks. “We’re hoping to bring Rip’s to Baltimore soon,” Allison adds.
[Discloure: Allison Robicelli has contributed to Eater.com]