The team behind Herbivorous Butcher, a local company specializing in vegan meats, was once approached by a food scientist while selling their wares at a Minneapolis farmers market.
"Okay, I'm going to try this," the scientist said, reaching for a sample of vegan Italian sausage.
He took a bite, chewed, then looked at Herbivorous Butcher co-owner Aubry Walch and said, "There's meat in this." See also: Try Vegan Marshmallows, Cheeses, and Meats at the Third Annual Twin Cities Veg Fest
"Actually sir, I made it myself a few days ago and there's definitely no meat in it," she replied.
The scientist wasn't convinced. He claimed he could taste the fat and feel the texture of the tendons, two essential components of pork sausage.
"Nope, that's pinto beans and the unevenness of the wheat gluten dough and sun-dried tomatoes," Walch said.
Walch grew up in Guam, where the days revolved around long meals featuring upward of four meat products. After she moved to the states and was introduced to animal rights, she decided to adopt a vegetarian diet.
Her brother, Kale Walch, became vegan shortly after. In time, the duo grew sick of frozen meat alternatives, like Morningstar and Boca products. They wanted something better -- something reminiscent of the meats they grew up with.
So they began experimenting with making their own using vital wheat gluten, juices, vegetables, and beans. The decision to transform their side project into an actual business started as a joke. Once they realized their meats actually had potential, they came up with an eight-week plan that involved giving 10 groups of people -- vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters -- a different product each week and having them fill out surveys.
"One of the big things we're trying to do is we're trying to help meat eaters feel comfortable with switching over," Aubry says. "It makes them comfortable when [the vegan meat] has the exact taste and looks the exact same way meat does."
Herbivorous Butcher debuted at the Minneapolis Farmers Market in June of this year. Each week, they offer pepperoni, deli bologna, teriyaki jerky, smoky house ribs, and Italian sausage, in addition to weekly specials like chorizo and maple sage sausage logs.
After three years of trial and error, the Herbivorous Butcher finally perfected their bacon recipe, which immediately flew off the farmers market shelves. Glam Doll Donuts has already asked them to supply their bacon for vegan maple bacon logs, and Candy Comfort, a local vegan candy company, will be using the bacon for salted caramel chocolates.
But the biggest boost in sales came from an assisted living facility that plans to switch its elderly residents over to vegan diets to get them off their medications and promote healthier lifestyles. The company asked the Herbivorous Butcher to supply the meat.
With the massive increase in demand, the Herbivorous Butcher decided to begin their search for a permanent location in south Minneapolis. Nothing has been solidified, but Aubry tells us they're eying the former Donut Cooperative space in Seward. In November, the Herbivorous Butcher will launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the shop.
"It's going to be a vegan butcher shop with cheeses and meats and sauces and meat rubs... anything you'd find in a butcher shop," Aubry says. "We're working with Studio M architects to turn our space into our dream old-timey butcher shop."
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