I thought vegan butchers were a ridiculous trend. Then I heard this guy’s story.
I’ll be honest: the first time I heard the term “vegan butcher,” I rolled my eyes. My imagination conjured up images of earnest beardy types in butcher’s aprons, deftly carving up eggplant and cauliflower. What fresh hipster hell is this? I thought. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I started interviewing people at the forefront of this new wave of plant-based foods, and I realized this was no hipster trend. This is more the next logical step for people looking to reduce animal proteins in their diets in a stress-free (and occasionally indulgent) way. Vegan butchers, put simply, provide the traditional butcher shop/deli experience of cold cuts and minimal-prep meals to go—but without any dead animals! Instead, you’ll find plant-based center-of-the-plate proteins in easily recognizable forms—from pork-less pulled pork to chicken-free fried chicken and tuna-less tuna salads. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here, in his own words, is the story of a vegan butcher. The shop: The Butcher’s Son—Berkeley, California Opened: 2015 Signature dish: Fried mozzarella and meatball sandwich on garlic bread with marinara sauce.
I grew up in a vegan/vegetarian household. I flip-flopped around eating meat in my 20s, but I always had issues with eating meat; it almost felt like an addiction. The problem was that I just didn’t know how to eat right! I went vegan seven or eight years ago, and here I still am.
[When] my sister, Christina Stobing, and I began the business, we wanted something our family could work at. We’ve been in the business our whole lives—our dad had a vegetarian ’50s-style diner back in the ’80s.
The original concept was for us to source wholesale products from as many other vegan companies as we could, so we could offer a huge variety of vegan meats and cheeses in large quantities. The idea was that you could come in and buy it by the pound, or just by the slice.
But then I started to think that we should develop our own stuff instead—make something unique that you can’t get anywhere else. We spent a year on product development and trying to find the right location. Then we opened with a pretty limited menu as an East Coast-style deli, with almost all our meats and cheeses made in-house (plus a few favorites from other companies). We also serve great sandwiches, salads and appies.
Until people get familiar with vegan ingredients, we’re comfortable using terms like “chicken” or “mozzarella” because that’s what it’s modeling and that’s what people understand. We do have descriptions and we explain that part of what we’re doing is opening their eyes to a different way of living and eating, and other paths they could take.
The reaction has been amazing: everyone who’s vegan loves us, but we get a lot of … omnivores checking us out too. Does what we do taste like meat? I think if you’ve not had meat in a while then we’re pretty close with taste and textures. We’re getting good feedback that for people looking for more plant-based options, we’re providing an alternative to rice, beans and salads!
Anatomy of a selection of sandwiches from The Butcher’s Son.
The Herbivorous Butcher—Minneapolis, MinnesotaThey’re known for their beer brats and Cuban pork. theherbivorousbutcher.comNo Evil Foods—Asheville, North Carolina Don’t miss their “El Zapatista” Mexican sausage—perfect for tacos—and no-chicken “Comrade Cluck.” noevilfoods.comMonk’s Meats—Brooklyn, New York Hipster heaven with comfort foods like asparagus and seitan steaks, as well as shiitake bacon. monksmeats.comAtlas Meat-Free Delicatessen—Miami, Florida Miami deli classics and comfort food faves like “Buttamlk Fried Chk’n” and “Meatball Marinara” sandwiches to grab and go. atlasmeatfreedeli.com
Gusta Foods—Montreal, Canada Located in one of Montreal’s most popular tourist hot spots, the Jean Talon Market. Try their smoked paprika wheat sausages. gustafoods.comYamChops—Toronto, Canada Just a hop across the border, it’s worth the trip to try their chick*n schnitzel with chickpeas, as well as the carrot lox (on a bagel, naturally). yamchops.comSova Food Vegan Butcher—Dublin, Ireland Chow down on seaweed chowder and chia burgers. facebook.com/SovaVeganButcher/SGAIA, Paisley, UK An online butcher for UK customers, their vegan poached eggs won a PETA Best Innovative Vegan Product award in 2017. sgaiafoods.co.uk