You might have heard about the Herbivorous Butcher during Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show monologue. Though the world's first vegan butcher shop is not a joke, it did start out that way. "We really wanted to sell all of these vegan meets we were making", says Aubry Walch. "It started as a joke. Let's open a vegan butcher shop. And then we realized that it wasn't that bad of an idea."
Creating meatless meats has been a passion project for Aubry and her brother (and business partner) Kale Walch. Both longtime vegans with little experience in the food industry, the duo simply tired of the lame vegan non-meats available at the grocery store. Propelled by what Kale deemed, "desperation and hunger," they started experimenting with their own recipes. "The first few years of recipes weren't great, but we always had new ideas and things always got better," says Kale.
With a few bulletproof recipes in hand, they decided to take their non-meats to market. "Initially, we wrote a full-scale business plan for an investor, trying to get the money up front," says Aubry. "That didn't really work out, so instead we decided to test the concept at the farmers market. We sold out the first day." They've cultivated a dedicated following at the Mill City Farmers Market, with folks lining up weekly (sometimes for over an hour—though you can now pre-order meats online), for their sausage, sliced "turkey" and even vegan cheeses. Surprisingly enough, many of their best customers aren't vegan. "Most are meat eaters," says Aubry, who credits their customer's feedback to pushing them even farther in the kitchen. "They'd tell us what they thought about texture, flavor, and what they would change. That's how we improved our recipes."
Those original recipes include Italian sausage, burgers, deli bologna, and ribs. "The ribs are really popular," says Kale. "You can throw them in the oven or on the grill, or put them in sauce for baking. They're fully cooked in the package, so you just need to cook them through. We smoke them for really long time, so there's already a lot of flavor infused."
At first pass, faux ribs and vital gluten-based beef jerky might sound ridiculous, but 715 supporters helped the Walch family raise over $60,000 via Kickstarter. Later this spring, they'll turn their farmers market stall into a bona fide shop. Dubbed the Herbivorous Butcher, their all-vegan concept opens in Northeast along Central Avenue (right across from the Vegas Lounge. Karaoke and phony baloney, y'all!). "It will operate just like a traditional butcher shop, with a case with red meat and sausages. We're really excited about having raw options," says Aubry. We'll have raw red meat that people can take home and season however they like. Families can pick up take and bake meals, and they'll also offer vegan cheeses. "We're making a soy-based cheese right now with organic non-GMO soy milk and coconut oil," says Kale. "We'll also do cashew cheeses with probiotics so it ferments naturally."
Though animal rights are big reason a lot of folks opt for a vegan diet, there are plenty of other reasons to omit or greatly reduce your animal protein consumption. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to reducing risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Eating less meat will likely reduce your grocery bill, not to mention alleviate environmental stress. Consider this: it takes approximately 1,850 gallons of water to produce one pound of ground beef. On the flipside, a pound of veggies takes only 39 gallons. "It's not just about animal rights," says Aubry. "It's also about water shortage and global warming. We're trying to create a product so people who eat meat will not necessarily switch to a vegan diet, but replace meat."
Can the Herbivorous Butcher's creations complete with the real thing? The Walchs think that question is beside the point. If you set meat as the standard to which of our products are judged by, "I think you're setting your expectations too low," says Kale. "Our stuff is an improvement, not a replacement. A lot of people are skeptical, but you don't need to call it meat. It's just good food."
-by Molly Mogren