MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On the surface, it sounds ridiculous: a meat-free meat shop; The Herbivorous Butcher.
"We call it meat-free meats, and cheese-free cheeses because it's friendlier," said Aubry Walch, co-owner of the first vegan "butcher" shop in the United States.
The northeast Minneapolis storefront of The Herbivorous Butcher features a giant meat clever protruding from the façade, gleaming white butcher-style refrigerated cases inside.
But there is no meat here.
"We use tomato paste, tomato juice, pinto beans to get different textures," said Kale Walch, Aubry's brother and business partner.
Yes, his name is Kale, and he knows no one believes it's real.
"No one ever will. I have my driver's license to prove it," he laughed, pointing out that he was born in Guam where no one was familiar with kale the vegetable.
The concept has gotten this brother-sister duo media coverage around the world: from the New York Times to newspapers in London and the Philippines.
The idea dates back five years, Aubry had been vegetarian since she was a teenager, Kale became vegan in 2008.
"I was like, 'Let's open a vegan butcher shop,'" Aubry said. "I called him and asked him to quit college."
"I was sick of it anyway," Kale said.
"My mom called and said 'Kale quit college, what do you know about this?' I was like, 'Oh Gosh, nothing,'" Aubry said, laughing.
For the past several years they've been perfecting their recipes. The kitchen looks more like a bakery than any traditional butcher shop. Each "meat-free meat" starts with a high protein, high vitamin wheat flour.
"Vegetarians often are lacking Vitamin B and other nutrients," Aubry said.
The culinary team experiments with natural seasonings, sauces, and other flavors to achieve the texture they seek.
"With the porterhouse, apple juice reacts with tomato juice – to get that irony, steaky, bloody flavor when you cut into the steak. It's remarkable really," Kale said.
Before they built the butcher shop, they sold at the Minneapolis Farmers market, sampling meat-free "sausages" -- like a sriracha brat.
"Some people think it's stupid for vegans to recreate meat, since they've chosen to stay away from meat," WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha asked.
"I didn't become vegan because I didn't like the taste of meat or the texture of meat," Aubry explained, "It's an ethical thing or a health thing or they're doing it for the environment."
She said that so far, about 60 percent of The Herbivorous Omnivore's client base has been omnivores.
"They're people who do meatless Monday, or are trying to cut down for health reasons," she said.
Ultimately, Aubry and Kale said they envision having Herbivorious Butcher shops on the east and west coasts, with a hub creating the vegan "meats" and "cheeses" and then shipping them to local retail shops.
"The term butcher is controversial," noted DeRusha, because butchering is a specific craft that involves actual meat.
"You know, we butcher plants," said Aubry Walch. "The world is evolving, what the world needs is less animal agriculture. The plant-based world is part of the future and we're gonna take the word butcher with us," she said.
The Herbivorous Butcher opens on Jan. 23rd at 507 1st Avenue NE in Minneapolis. They'll sell vegan Italian sausage, kielbasa, pepperoni, Korean ribs, porterhouse steak, deli "meats" like pastrami and bologna, and vegan cheeses including Pepper Jack, Mozzarella and cheddar.
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