It might sound like a joke — a meatless meat market — but the ones laughing are the people who came up with the idea.
The brother-and-sister team of Aubry and Kale Walch have just wrapped up a super-successful Kickstarter campaign and are preparing to open a vegan butcher shop, the Herbivorous Butcher, in Minneapolis. In the process, they've also become foodie rock stars.
"The press we've been getting is amazing," said Kale Walch, who's been getting requests for interviews from all over the world. "They've heard of us in Europe! I still can't believe that people in the United States have heard of us."
One reason for the interest is that their vegan butcher shop will be the first of its kind anywhere. That, and the fact that when people hear about it, their first reaction is to think they're being punked.
"But then they try it," Walch said, "and we walk them through the ingredients and explain how it's the nutritional equivalent of meat, along with the texture and flavor. Then they understand."
What many vegetarians want is something that looks like meat, tastes like meat, acts like meat when you stick it in a burger or put it on a grill — but isn't meat. That's what the Walches have figured out how to provide. They combine ingredients like yeast, soy and miso in recipes they've spent three years perfecting.
They started selling their non-meat meat over the summer at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Now they've moved to the Linden Hills Winter Market, which is held at Sunnyside Gardens, 3723 W. 44th St., Minneapolis. They will be there the next three Sundays, starting at 9 a.m., but their repeat customers know to arrive early because supply doesn't come close to demand.
"We've sold out every weekend since we started," Walch said. "In fact, we usually sell out by 11 a.m."
Which brings us to the second chapter of their story.
Renting space in a commercial kitchen and trying to work around their day jobs, the Walches have reached their maximum production capacity. So, they figured, it's time to expand to their own shop, which they hope to open in northeast Minneapolis by mid-April.
A Kickstarter campaign launched Nov. 1 to fund the move went over like raw meat thrown to a pack of lions.
"We blew past our original $50,000 goal," Walch said. "We ended up with $65,000 that we raised from 715 backers — which, I'm told, is an incredible number for a Kickstarter campaign."
Their shop will be in what used to be Los Compadres Bar & Grill, 1032 3rd Av. NE. For a customer walking in the front door, it will look like a typical butcher shop with glass display cases holding the likes of Italian sausage, smoky house ribs and deli bologna. They also plan to carry holiday turkeys and hams, as well as vegan cheeses and gluten-free breads.
After three years of anonymous experiments, the whirlwind of activity the last few months has been exhausting, Walch admitted. But also exhilarating.
"It's been a fun ride," he said.