Sister and brother duo Aubry and Kale Walch have spent the last several years perfecting The Herbivorous Butcher’s deliciously deceiving meat-free meats. Aubry has been a vegan for 18 years and has spent over a decade creating meat-free alternatives to many the foods that she grew up with on Guam, a place where cooking was a deep-rooted part of everyday life and each meal consisted of at least two different kinds of meat or seafood, not to mention a wide variety of flavors, spices, and textures, blending Guamanian cuisine with culinary cultures from across the world.
After years of watching Aubry thrive as a strict vegan, Kale Walch followed suit and became vegan. Over the past four years, he has developed a keen sense for the many ingredients and methods that go into making the most flavorful, nutritious and satisfying meat alternatives. Having made the change from omnivore to vegan more recently, he is able to invoke the flavors of his previous “meat palate” to create realistic and tastefully accurate meat-alternatives.
Aubry Walch is President of The Herbivorous Butcher, and Ryan Strandjord is Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. How are you doing today? It’s a really, really really chilly day here in New York City today, 28 degrees right now. It’s even cold inside, but baby it’s cold outside. And I just got some good news I want to share with you. You know I’ve been having this crazy problem with my MacBook Pro since early August. It’s an early 2011 model and the logic board keeps giving me these video issues, it’s covered after some kind of extended program with Apple, and I just found out that, after I brought it in again, for like the fourth billionth time since August, I got my third new logic board! And, I’m hoping that this one isn’t rejected by my machine, because it’s very time consuming, and when you live online all the time, it’s really problematic when your computer goes bad. And the only reason I’m bringing it up is because it is kind of related to food because, it’s an Apple. Hahaha!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now we have to move quickly here because my guests are limited in their time and I want to bring them right on. We’re going to be speaking with Aubry Walch, who is the president of a very new company called The Herbivorous Butcher. She and her brother have created it, and we’re going to hear a lot about it. It’s launching, it’s opening is this Saturday. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Aubry and Ryan, the vice president is also with us too, is that correct?
Aubry Walch: Yes, Hi Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi!
Aubry Walch: Hi, how are you doing?
Caryn Hartglass: Good, I’m so appreciative of this time. I know you’re opening in four days and it must be crazy!
Aubry Walch: Yeah, things are pretty nuts right now, that’s for sure. We’re working around the clock to make sure we have all the food.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so tell us a little bit about The Herbivorous Butcher. If we head to Minneapolis, what can we expect, starting Saturday?
Aubry Walch: Well this Saturday, in particular, you’re going to walk into an old-fashioned butcher shop. People behind the counter wearing their hats, white shirts, white aprons, it’s going to feel like the 1950s. The only difference is, when you look in that meat case, there’s not going to be anything with animals in it. Everything is made with plants, from the steaks to the sausage to our pulled pork.
Caryn Hartglass: Now this location that you’re in, was it originally a butcher shop? Or was it something else?
Aubry Walch: No, it was actually called City Salvage; it was a salvage, furniture, and miscellaneous type store. So it’s just really big, empty shelves.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay great. I’m very excited about this. My partner, Gary, and I had imagined, a number of times, a vegan butcher shop, and now it’s finally happening! [laughs]
Aubry Walch: [laughs] No one’s imagining.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I know your brother, Kale, isn’t joining us, but can I just ask you about his first name?
Aubry Walch: Yes! We actually – being from Guam, they don’t import vegetables like kale, at least they didn’t in the early ‘90s. So when Kale was born, we didn’t even know it was a vegetable until we moved to the United States. And then we were at the grocery store, and we thought, “oh my gosh! This is cabbage.” So then Kale grew up with my mom telling him that kale was the strongest vegetable in the garden.
Caryn Hartglass: Hahaha! Well that’s great! It’s such a perfect name! And I like to say there’s nothing kale can’t do. And you’re proving that right now, there’s nothing Kale and Aubry can’t do with this new Herbivorous Butcher. And what I like is that you’re really bringing life and new meaning to the word “butcher.”
Aubry Walch: Yeah, what we like to say is, it’s time that old-timey butchers that slaughter animal herds, they had their time and it’s our time now for butcher shops to be plant-based. So as far as I’m concerned, plant-based butcher shops, we’re taking the word “butcher” with us.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now you’ve been a vegan for a long time, is that correct?
Aubry Walch: Yes. Over – almost 20 years now.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, good for you. And what was the turning point for you? To give up animal foods?
Aubry Walch: Yeah, I was 14 and bagging groceries at a grocery store and watching all that meat come through the register, and it sort of struck me that that was living at one time, and I decided that I didn’t want to put any more pain out into the world and I didn’t need it to sustain myself and to be happy, so I just stopped.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. And I love it when siblings kind of get the message and join in a good thing.
Aubry Walch: Yeah, well dozens of PETA videos later, he followed suit. [laughs]
Caryn Hartglass: [laughs] I have an older sister and a younger brother, and they’re both vegan, too, so –
Aubry Walch: Oh, that’s awesome!
Caryn Hartglass: It definitely makes family gatherings a lot easier when you’ve got safety in numbers.
Aubry Walch: Oh, does it ever, it’s so much nicer.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so what are your challenges in the next few days, if you don’t mind me asking?
Aubry Walch: I think just making sure we can make enough food to satisfy everyone this weekend. One promise we made to our customers when we decided to open this, was that we would never run out of food again. We’d been running out of stuff every single weekend. So, just making enough to keep our promise.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and do you make all of your meat products?
Aubry Walch: Yeah, yes, we make them all by hand. Every single sausage is hand-rolled.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Aubry Walch: I have over 5800 to roll this week.
Caryn Hartglass: [laughs] Are they soy-based, seitan-based, a little of everything?
Aubry Walch: Yeah, we like to call it “strategic seitan.” So it’s a basic seitan recipe, and we dress it up. We use a lot of different juices, different flours, we use seeds and spices, and then they’re cooked in different ways to achieve the texture and flavor that we’re looking for.
Caryn Hartglass: And, had you been selling these foods before opening this store?
Aubry Walch: Yeah, we were at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market for a summer, and that did really well and took off, and after that, we started doing other farmers’ markets and pop-ups at different breweries, and our customer base got bigger and bigger, and more people were willing to try it, and that’s what brought us to where we’re at now, with this shop.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, so those were the places where you’d always run out.
Aubry Walch: Yeah, yes, exactly. We were cooking out of a community kitchen where you had to book time by the hour and we didn’t have as much time as we could’ve used.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, but well – it’s been a good dress rehearsal for you; so now you’re ready to open on Saturday. I’m so excited for you, and Minneapolis is a great place. It’s a very forward-thinking place when it comes to food, so I’m sure you’ll get a lot of great support.
Aubry Walch: Yes, we’re really, really excited.
Caryn Hartglass: And so, you’re originally from Guam?
Aubry Walch: Yeah, yup, born and raised, and moved to the United States when I was 13, and Kale was 6 months old.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know anything about Guam. What are some of the local foods there?
Aubry Walch: The food on Guam is a combination of Spanish food and Japanese food and Korean food and Filipino food, it’s just all these different cultures that have come to the island over the years. Some Guamanian food is – we use a lot of soy sauce, and vinegar, and peppers in our food and so it’s just these flavors, incredible flavors that go really well on a grill. So that’s kind of what spurs a lot of different recipes we use now. For example, our porterhouse steak we like to marinate in our Chamorro marinade.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, so we’ve got this Guamanian vegan cuisine going on.
Aubry Walch: Yeah, with a couple things, but we definitely stay pretty true to a lot of the American favorites.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I know you have to go soon. Just give me an idea of what’s on your menu, and get our mouths watering for what we might – if we walked in, what we could order.
Aubry Walch: Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to have a lot of our heavy hitters this weekend, we have our porterhouse steaks, which are more or less a blank palate, you can marinate it in whatever you want, grill it, or fry it up in a pan. We’ve also got a couple of our breakfast sausages; we have our maple sage breakfast sausage as well as our all-American breakfast sausage, which is very spicy. We’ve got sriracha brats; we’re going to have pulled pork, which is our gluten-free product. We’ll have our Korean ribs, which is our most popular product right now. We’ll have a lot of different cheeses, from Camembert to earth-smoked cheddar to our best-seller, the dill Havarti, and the pepper jack.
Caryn Hartglass: So you mentioned the Korean ribs – do they have a bone in them?
Aubry Walch: Nope! There’s no bone in there.
Caryn Hartglass: [laughs] They’re boneless.
Aubry Walch: We cover them in tapioca flour and brown sugar so they crisp up really nicely when you put them in a pan.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm sounds good. And is there any place to eat inside, or this is solely for pick-up?
Aubry Walch: Yes, this is – we’re just a butcher shop. We’ll have a hot lunch special once we get going, but you just come in after work or on your lunch break, pick up your custom meat you need and cheese you need, and you’re on your way.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that sounds really good. I know you have to go, so if you want to add anything, now’s the time, and then I’ll bring Ryan on to fill out the rest of the show.
Aubry Walch: Well, I think, just check us out online, we’re at www.theherbivorousbutcher.com and our Facebook page, which we like to put a lot of really fun videos and pictures up, so it ends up being a pretty funny time.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, well I’m so excited for you, and I hope it’s a big success and that you take over all the butcher shops everywhere on the planet!
Aubry Walch: Oh yeah, that’s the plan! Thank you so much, Caryn, for having me today, and I’m going to pass it over to Ryan.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you Aubry.
Ryan Strandjord: Hello!
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, Ryan. How are you doing?
Ryan Strandjord: I’m doing very well, how are you today?
Caryn Hartglass: Good. So I don’t really know your story, so are you vegan as well?
Ryan Strandjord: I am, I am now at least.
Caryn Hartglass: Excuse me?
Ryan Strandjord: I wasn’t when I first met these guys; in fact I was a pretty big meat eater when I first met Aubry and Kale and started working with them. But after trying their products and learning more about animal rights issues and the connection to the environment myself, it became really difficult to convince myself not to go vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: I love that! That absolutely makes sense, and you’ve obviously made the right choice. I interview a lot of different people and authors on this program, and there’s a number of authors that I’ve spoken to who talk about factory farming and the tremendous devastation it has on the economy, on local businesses, on human beings and non-human animals, and yet they’re not vegan. And it blows me away once they’ve done all this research and discovered every reason why we shouldn’t be eating animals, they still eat animals. So, I’m very glad that you learned a lot and you decided to choose plants.
Ryan Strandjord: Yeah I think it makes – obviously we agree that it makes more sense to be eating a plant-based diet for a host of various different reasons, and the way that we have our business set up, we do take education on the topic very seriously, so we want people to understand better the impact that the food they’re putting on their plate has, really on the global economy and the global environment. And for us, we’re working to help create that change by changing the way that people look at food and what they put on their plates. And for me, being someone that was doing a lot of research on the subject and promoting a lot of that research, it really got to the point where I started feeling like a pretty big hypocrite, and even more so when I was going to the grocery store and going to these different deli counters and reaching for meat, I could quite literally hear the animals screaming in my mind, from all the videos that I’d been watching.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Ryan Strandjord: And after that, it was an easy transition to make. And fortunately for me, too, I work with a company that makes probably quite literally some of the best vegan meat and cheese that you can get in the world. We’re able to get stuff super fresh, and so for me, that sort of taste barrier wasn’t there, because I can easily swap in and out ribs, lots of brats that we make, the porterhouse steak is amazing, and so for me to go through that process of never even thinking that I’d be a vegan or vegetarian, being a convert myself, it really just motivates me more and more all the time to sort of get our message out there and to turn more people on to possibilities that exist with plant-based diets.
Caryn Hartglass: And how long ago did you make this change?
Ryan Strandjord: I would say that I’ve been – I was kind of going back and forth for about six months, and then about six months ago I decided that enough was enough, I just have to make the full transition. Because there are a couple times where I’d go a week or more eating all vegan, and it was the best that I ever felt in my whole life. And then I would eat a meat dish and not feel good, I mean just digestion wasn’t that great, even concentration wasn’t what it used to be, and so for me, it even got to a point where I didn’t feel as productive as an employee when I was eating meat. I felt a lot more fresh and alert when I was eating a plant-based diet. So yeah, it’s been about six months now 100% and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree. Now I’ve been vegan for almost 28 years, and as much as I try, it’s hard for me to know what it feels like to not be a vegan. And for me, it’s easy, I don’t see animals as food, I don’t see animal products as food, like you mentioned hearing the animals scream, there have been times when I’ve seen chafing dishes of bacon, even with the cover on, and I hear the screaming. It’s something – you know I don’t know how- if it’s real, or if it’s a connection I’m making or if indeed, in another dimension, I’m actually hearing their screams, but it’s not a good thing. But I’m always curious to hear from new vegans, because it’s fresh for you, and you remember, I would hope, what your thoughts were before you became vegan and why you thought you’d never be one. Do you remember some of those?
Ryan Strandjord: Oh yeah, absolutely. I know my sister’s been a vegetarian for almost 15 years now, and I think for me, a lot of it was convenience. And I feel that we, as Americans, so many of the decisions we make are based on convenience. And so if you want to eat some food, most places everywhere are very meat-heavy in the dishes that they’re providing. The vegan and vegetarian options are often quite limited or they’re quite bland, and so for me, that was the major thing. I’d go down to the grocery store, and I’d just eat the stuff that I was eating when I grew up, and I’d eat the stuff that was readily available. It’s only that since going vegan that I look at menus completely differently now, and I can see where- how it can be difficult, and how a lot of people who are eating plant-based diets feel like they’re left out, because there aren’t nearly the amount of options that there are for meat-eaters. So for me, that convenience was the main thing, and it just seemed normal at the time. And I hadn’t made the connections to the animal rights issues, to the environment issues, or even in my health, and learning more and more and reading stories about people that are experiencing health issues, especially later in life, and how eating more plant-based diets or an entirely plant-based diet are able to get rid of medications, are able to exercise more, and then quality of life goes up – a lot of this is just information that I didn’t have access to or I didn’t seek out. And so when I started doing that, it changed things pretty drastically for me.
Caryn Hartglass: I eat a primarily whole foods, plant-based diet. I like to stay really clean. But occasionally, I do like to have a good burger. And I have access to a lot of great restaurants here in New York City and in Manhattan, and we were just at a restaurant called Blossom du Jour the other day. They’re actually – the company actually has a number of different restaurants in Manhattan, and I hadn’t been to this particular location, but it was so much fun because it’s kind of like upscale fast food, and the kind of food that I know would appeal to everyone, and they had all these meat kind of classics. Burgers and melts and steaks and things, and I had this great thing called the skyscraper. It was a burger, with fried onion rings on it, and all kinds of great schmears and sauces, and it was just- it was flavors that I remember from a long time ago, only a healthier, more compassionate, cleaner version. I’m only mentioning it because I know they’re not competitors with you because they’re in New York and you’re in Minneapolis!
Ryan Strandjord: [laughs] Great.
Caryn Hartglass: But I’m sure there’s a huge market for this, and it’s all about convenience, ‘cause the flavor is absolutely there.
Ryan Strandjord: Yeah, I would agree. I know Aubry and Kale and the rest of our team in the kitchen strive very hard to not only bring that flavor, but that texture, as well, to the product. And so when people are, when they’re enjoying it, it is something that they’re used to. And I would also add, that I found really interesting, because I’m the one that sort of views all our promotions online, reads a lot of the social media comments, there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians out there that do adhere to a more whole foods diet, that can’t understand what we’re doing, or they find it very difficult to understand what we’re doing, because they’re saying, “well, you shouldn’t eat that, that’s processed crap” or whatever it might be. And really, our response to that is that our product is really geared toward omnivores. Our goal is to get more people that are eating meat to take meat off of their plate, and then to add our product there. And so for us, if we’re creating smokehouse barbecue ribs, well maybe they were planning on having that Thursday night anyway, but instead of having to completely redesign their meal, they can just swap in our product and swap out the animal product. So I agree that we should be eating more whole foods, and that is a healthier way to go, but there’s also a lot of people that are not even thinking about those kinds of things, and so if we’re able to at least start to get some of their interest in what we’re doing, because it’s an easy transition to make, then we feel like we can create – or help to create the biggest change.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m so glad you brought that up. It’s kind of embarrassing sometimes to read posts by so many angry vegans who want to tell us what to do and how we should do it. I know firsthand the importance of healthy plant foods for health. I had advanced ovarian cancer almost 10 years ago, and I really- and I had been vegan for a long time, but I cleaned up my diet and started cramming more dark leafy green vegetables and mushrooms, because I wanted to beat this disease, and I did. But what brought me to vegetarianism originally was not wanting to kill animals, plain and simple, and we’ve got a society today, 7 billion people on the planet, and as more people elevate into a higher economy, they want to eat meat. And more people are projected to want to eat meat, and the planet can’t sustain it, it’s horrifically cruel, and if we can have The Herbivorous Butcher and other places like that are offering these wonderful alternatives, ha! What a beautiful planet this would be!
Ryan Strandjord: Well, that’s what we’re hoping to do. And for a lot of people, like myself included before I met these guys, it’s something that a lot of people aren’t even thinking about. And for us, it really makes this moment in time very exciting because as we’re at farmers’ markets, as we- like sometimes we do pop-ups at local taprooms, and there was one time not too long ago, a group of people came through doing a brewery tour, they had no idea that we were going to be there, but after hanging out for a bit and seeing a bunch of people come through, they sort of migrated over to our table and asked us, “well what are you guys doing? What’s going on here?” and Kale, who’s able to pitch our product better than anybody, and talk about it in a way that’s very inclusive, got the whole group of people to try. And just seeing their faces, and seeing their eyes light up, and kind of looking at each other saying, “this is vegan?” – it was something that they had no idea that you could ever even do that. And so for us, to be able to get those kinds of people to at least just try our kind of product, we’re not asking them to become vegan overnight, or, I mean we’re really not asking them to do anything other than just take a chance. Because it’s a small little sample, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s all made from plants, it’s all made from ingredients that you can pronounce, pretty much everything we use is organic, local, and most of it’s non-GMO, so it’s not going to hurt you, unless you have certain sensitivities to different ingredients. So just to give it a try, because we feel like food science has come so far, and we’ll continue to develop in ways where we’re able to create products that will make you forget about what you used to love, because now you’re transitioning to something that’s totally different.
Caryn Hartglass: Human beings are kind of a crazy species.
Ryan Strandjord: [laughs] Yeah, we really are. We really are. And I feel that we’re in a moment of great change.
Caryn Hartglass: We think that triple and quadruple bypass surgery is normal, and eating a plant-based diet is extreme. It’s a strange time, but I’m very positive about it.
Ryan Strandjord: It’s funny you mention that, because I was just reading on Facebook yesterday, someone was talking about how no one questioned her diet until she became a vegetarian.
Caryn Hartglass: Uh-huh.
Ryan Strandjord: But then people stuff their faces with McDonald’s all the time, and no one bats an eyelash.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, crack open my sternum and just clear things out a little bit, and I’ll go back to eating my beef burgers. Uh-huh!
Ryan Strandjord: Exactly, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Crazy. Okay, are you- are you shipping any of this food, or right now it’s all just in-house for those people who come into the store?
Ryan Strandjord: Right now we are doing a pre-order online to ship products in February, and our plan is to do regular shipping probably sometime in March, is the ideal time that we’d like to do that. It’s difficult because we have to send everything 2-day with cold packs and insulated shippers, as the products need to be kept cold, but because of the response that we’ve been getting from all over the country, and quite literally all over the world, we’d like to be able to get our products out there to people as soon as we’re able to. And now that we have this magnificent production facility, we’re able to make a lot more food. We feel like we have an opportunity to connect with people all around the country, and hopefully get them to start changing their minds, too.
Caryn Hartglass: Very, very, very exciting. Okay Ryan, where can we find out more about The Herbivorous Butcher?
Ryan Strandjord: Yeah, Aubry mentioned the website, just www.theherbivorousbutcher.com. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We like to post a lot of funny videos and pictures, ‘cause we like to be very playful and sort of keep things light with each other, and we’d like to have that same kind of experience with our customers, as well. There are also a lot of really great articles out there that have been written about us recently, where we go more in-depth about the process and why we do what we do. And I’d also, too, encourage people to send us emails. If they have questions about what we’re doing, concerns, suggestions, whatever it might be, we love that we’re able to have a direct relationship with so many of our consumers, because they’re really the ones that we’re doing this for, and the more that we have that kind of interaction, the farther we can go.
Caryn Hartglass: Sounds good. Well, I just learned that it’s The HerBIvorous, not HerbiVORous. Ha-ha!
Ryan Strandjord: Yeah, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Herbivorous! Herbivorous Butcher. Excellent, well I look forward to trying some of your products in the very near future.
Ryan Strandjord: Absolutely. We’re looking forward to it, as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, have a very excellent opening on Saturday. We’ll be thinking about you.
Ryan Strandjord: Thank you very much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food and send my best to Kale, too.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that exciting? And you definitely should go to their website, because they look like they’re having a lot of fun, and I hope they do continue to have a lot of fun. I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work; it’s probably been a lot of hard work already, but definitely something to look forward to.
Transcribed by Marissa Sheldon, 1/21/206