The Herbivorous Butcher Makes ‘Meat’ for Vegans

The concept of The Herbivorous Butcher will either leave you very excited or very confused, depending on your diet. Get this: it’s a meat-free meat store, a butcher shop for vegans — the first of its kind.

I love telling people about The Herbivorous Butcher, located in Minneapolis, because their reactions range from a blank stare to disbelief. “How can a butcher shop be vegan?!?”

Well, sister and brother duo Aubry and Kale Walch made it possible. Their company sells meat substitutes ranging from chicken to beef jerky.

Aubry (left) and Kale Walch with one of their meat-free meat products. Photo courtesy of The Herbivorous Butcher.

I’ve been to their store a number of times since they opened and I always leave with a sense of awe at what an incredible business they have created.  There is massive demand for their products and when they post updates on social media there seems to be a never-ending stream of commenters begging them to open a store in each of their cities.

What most don’t realize is that Aubry and Kale first started creating their food and experimenting with recipes five years ago. They also spent a considerable amount of time working on their business while also being employed full time. They are hardly the overnight success some might assume them to be. When their physical store opened in January 2016, it was four years after they started working toward their goal.

Inside The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis. Photo by Mike Ross.

I spoke with Aubry and Kale about what it took to get their business dreams out of their heads, onto paper and eventually into practice.

David Carlson: How did you come up with the idea for The Herbivorous Butcher?

The Herbivorous Butcher: We weren’t happy with the meat alternative products that were in the grocery stores, so we started making our own. We were just hungry and decided to make the same products that we ate growing up, but vegan.

DC: How long did it take from coming up with the initial idea to opening the store?  What was the process like from idea to inception?

THB: We started making our meatless meats about five years ago, and then did some taste trials with friends and family. In June 2014 we opened at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and sold out every weekend. We used Kickstarter to raise funds for our brick-and-mortar shop November 2014 and finally opened our doors Jan. 23, 2016.

DC: How long did it take you to perfect the various recipes you use at the butcher shop?  What is the process like?

THB: It’s a lot of trial and error, but we start with a basic seitan recipe then add in various flours, beans, and other seasonings until we find something that mimics the product that we’re going for. It’s like running a savory bakery, and we use a variety of processes from baking to steaming to boiling.

Meat-free sausages and other offerings at The Herbivorous Butcher. Photo courtesy of The Herbivorous Butcher.

DC: Opening up a storefront is something that many people have thought about, but it can be costly.  How did you navigate financing your business?

THB: We used Kickstarter to raise funds, and we also have an investment group backing us.

DC: Any expansion plans in the near future?  New products or locations?

THB: We would love to expand! We are hoping to have a location chosen by the end of 2016 for us to build in 2017 and have looked into both Denver and Los Angeles to start.

DC: What advice would you give to someone who has an idea for a business but isn’t sure where to start?

THB: We started by making food for our friends and family. People who love you tend to be your harshest critics.

Get your elevator pitch down and run the idea by them as if you were speaking to an investment group.

If you’re interested in starting a food business, make samples of your food for them with a short survey on how they liked it or disliked it and what they would change. We did six rounds of food testing with eight different groups of people that ranged from veg folks to die hard meat eaters and got their feedback. This helped us to choose the first five products that we took to the farmers market.

Business owners Kale and Aubry Walch. Photo courtesy of The Herbivorous Butcher.

DC: How does someone figure out whether their idea for a business is viable?

THB: There are many ways to do this and it really depends on what your business is.

For us, taking our product to the people was the way that worked best for us. We opened a small farmers market booth where we handed out a ton of samples and sold our products. We got a lot of feedback about our products from hundreds of people every weekend and that allowed us to improve our food according to what the people wanted and liked. What our customers wanted was all that really mattered to us so the farmers market was the perfect incubator.

DC: Any final advice for those who want to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur?

THB: Believe in what you’re doing! If you don’t believe in it and you’re not excited about it, no one else will be.

We baby-stepped our way out of our jobs and worked long hours between our jobs and our business until we were able to take the full on leap. There are a lot of stressful times when you start a business and we didn’t want to add to our stress by quitting our jobs and not having enough money to make ends meet personally and totally emotionally cashing us out. So we opted for the sleepless nights in lieu of the stress of not being able to pay our bills.

This article is part of America’s Entrepreneurs, a Rewire initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.