This month I welcome sister and brother team, Aubry & Kale Watch from The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota to the blog. In 2014 this creative duo started one of the few completely vegan butcher shops in America where they create and serve up animal free meats and cheeses pleasing the tastebuds of both vegans and omnivores alike. In the interview below, learn how their idea got started, what motivates them to stay vegan and what’s next for The Herbivorous Butcher family.
As always, thanks for tuning in!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: First off, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions today! I know how busy things are for both of you. It’s an honor to have you here!
I like to start by asking all of my guests to share their vegan story. Why and when did you both become vegan?
Aubry: I was bagging groceries when I was 14 and I was putting meat in bags to put them in other bags because the blood was so drippy. I started to realize that the things I was putting in bags was alive at one point. I started reading Peter Singer books and decided that I didn’t need to consume animal products to be happy.
Kale: Right after high school, I wanted a fresh start because I needed to lose some weight. I was pretty unpopular in high school and wanted to turn over a new leaf in college. That would’ve been nice.
C&CG: What gave you both the idea to open a vegan butcher shop? And, once opened, did either of you have any idea the popularity and warm welcome you’d receive, especially considering you’re based in the Midwest?
A: It was kind of a joke at the beginning. Kale and I were thinking about opening a restaurant but when we Googled the success rate of restaurants, we realized that was a terrible idea for two people who have never owned a food business before. So we joked that we should open a vegan butcher shop instead of a restaurant. We paused and looked at each other and went, “Hm, that’s kind of a funny idea.” But we decided to do it; everyone laughed at us along the way, but I guess it’s working! People have asked if we thought about where we were going to open before we did this, but for us it was about opening where we live and the community that we’re a part of. I didn’t necessarily thing it would do well or not; we just put everything into it and hoped it would work.
K: It started as a joke my sister told once, and in every joke there’s a little bit of truth and a little bit of brilliance. This one just had a little bit more than the other jokes. We were both making recipes separately and got to the point where it was so good that the world had to know. One farmer’s market booth and one Kickstarter and one shop later, here we are. I certainly didn’t think it’d be this popular, and I’m still surprised on the weekends when it’s so busy, but pleasantly surprised. It’s becoming less surprising and more… deserved? I was always my biggest critic, even when it came to our best recipes, but I’ve been proved wrong over and over again. So many we should be crowded because people really seem to like it.
C&CG: Do either of you have any formal culinary training? Was being in the kitchen a part of your childhood?
A: Between the ages of 3 and 12, I cooked in my grandma’s kitchen. Then I Googled how to make seitan and made a lump of seitan and ate that lump of seitan for five or six years. Then I decided to do something else with it around the same time Kale jumped in.
K: I don’t have any training, I was just hungrier than most people. My mom found an old recipe book that had 2 recipes that I made over and over when I was 10 or 11. One was called Cabin Chicken and it had a pinch of like 20 different spices, which was pretty much everything we had in our cupboard. One of these days I might make Cabin Chicken here. The other was my signature Fried Rice which was just brown sugar and soy sauce, but it was delicious.
C&CG: Do you find that your shop and products are well-received by both vegans and non-vegans alike?
A: About 60% of our current customer base are omnivores, whether they cut out meat a few days a week or are curious about the taste or ones who are considering switching over and want to see what their options are. We seem to be equally popular among vegans and non-vegans.
K: To this day, most of our customers are omnivores which is perhaps a testament to the quality of the products. When we go to places like Eat Drink Vegan, we’ve made food for mostly vegans and they all love it. It’s all purpose.
C&CG: Besides selling your plant-based meats & cheeses in your shop in Minneapolis, your products are also available online to purchase. Where else are your yummy vegan products sold?
C&CG: What is your most popular item made/sold in your shop (in other words, what MUST I order when I make my first visit to your storefront)?
A&K: The Korean Ribs are our most popular product, and they’re especially amazing if you steam them! Lots of people eat them cold as soon as we hand them over, though.
C&CG: Outside of vegan cooking and recipe developing, what other passions and hobbies do you both have?
A: My passion was always trying to figure out how to make the world a better place, so I’m lucky to be in the exact place where my work and my passion mix. Opening Herbivorous Acres is the perfect way to blend the two since we’re an activist business.
K: I had to leave my band but we sucked anyway. I play Dungeons and Dragons some Sundays, but that’s more of a lifestyle than a hobby. It takes over your life a little. My friends from high school and I play online video games together, less so than we used to but we played recently and it was pretty controversial. Chuck wanted extra healing but we couldn’t give it to him. It almost tore our little friend group apart but we’ll continue to survive. I also do some writing but there’s not a lot of time, so I like to sing when I make cheese.
C&CG: It’s my understanding that you’ve recently founded a non-profit farmed animal sanctuary called Herbivorous Acres. Where is it located and what can you share with us about your new venture?
A&K: Herbivorous Acres is in Milaca, MN, which is about an hour north of the shop. We sign the contract to take over September 1st so we’re still trying to raise money for our down payment. The farm will come with some equine, chickens and cats and we’re excited to continue educating people about where their food comes from!
C&CG: Do you have any advice for folks who are interested in going vegan?
A: Use the internet. It has such a wealth of information and can tell you everything from whether or not a restaurant has vegan options to how to make dishes vegan. Just keep going because you’ll keep learning.
K: It’s so much easier than it ever has been. For every food that you think you’ll miss, there’s probably a solid substitute. It’s a lot cheaper than people think, too. At home I pretty much subsist on lentils, beans, rice and fancy sauces. It’s cheap and makes you feel nice.
C&CG: What motivates you both to stay vegan?
A: The fact that it’s really hot outside and it’s not supposed to be this hot. Life (human and animal) — I’d like for it to stick around.
K: It’s changed from when I first went vegan. Health is second nature now, but these days the strange and awful things that are happening to the environment that are happening on a daily basis but we won’t really realize until it’s too late so we need to do something. More and more people are talking about it, but I want to do my part in trying to save the world with my personal diet and lifestyle.
Siblings Aubry and Kale Walch are the owners of The Herbivorous Butcher, America’s first vegan butcher shop located in Minneapolis, MN. They have spent the last few years perfecting the art of making plant-based meats and cheeses to satisfy eaters of any persuasion. They use their delectable creations to decrease animal suffering, promote a more sustainable world, and encourage people to live healthier lives. In the spring of 2018, they plan to open Herbivorous Acres, their farm sanctuary, to the public. You can find them on social profiles including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.