The siblings behind a booming vegan brand
Aubry Walch began following a vegan diet when she was 14 years old. Her younger brother Kale Walch embraced the no-meat, no-dairy lifestyle after high school.
In 2016, after producing commercial versions of their meat, poultry and cheese recipes for Minneapolis Farmers Market shoppers, the Walches opened the nation's first brick-and-mortar vegan butcher shop (507 NE. 1st Av., Mpls., theherbivorousbutcher.com).
Since then, their coast-to-coast business has, well, mushroomed.
Next up for these unrivaled siblings is Herbie Butcher's. The vegan fried chicken shop (735 E. 48th St., Mpls., herbiebutchersfriedchicken.com) opens in a few weeks.
Q: Why did you create the Herbivorous Butcher?
Aubry: I always wanted to own a family business, with Kale. Our original idea was to open a vegan sushi bar, because that didn't exist then. But I looked at the failure rate of restaurants and decided against it. We were sitting on my patio and I said, kind of as a joke, "We have all of these recipes, we could open a vegan butcher shop, ha ha."
Kale: And then we were like, "Wait, is that a good idea?" We went with our gut and got to the farmers market to see if people liked it. We learned very quickly that it's exactly what people wanted.
Aubry: When we were trying to get permits from the city of Minneapolis, they couldn't grasp it. Finally, our architect said, "Just say that you're a 'savory baker.' " That they understood.
Q: Who are your customers?
Aubry: We kind of exist for everybody. We have a fair amount of vegan and vegetarian customers, but 70 percent are omnivores.
They're Meatless Monday people, and health-conscious people, and people who are learning about the planet and why climate change is happening.
They're people with heart problems and high cholesterol who want to eat meat but can't eat meat.
Kale: It's cool to see the customers we've had since the farmers market who started as flexitarians, and through the years they've become vegan. Then they start families, and their kids are vegan, and they come in every week.
Q: You produce dozens of products. Which are the most popular?
Kale: Our Korean rib is still the reigning champion. A lot of wholesalers buy it, slice it thin and stack it for a French dip kind of sandwich. The Italian sausage and the pastrami have been staples since our days at the farmers market.
Aubry: Our steak sales went crazy over the past year. We added flank steak, and people just love it.
Q: After initially avoiding restaurant ownership, you're opening one. Why?
Aubry: It's baby steps. The fried chicken place is fast-casual, and it's what we're comfortable with.
We're starting small and making sure we're doing it really well before we go any further. We have lots of ideas for small, fast-casual places, but we want to make sure that we make the right decisions. And we're pretty excited to see people holding buckets of fried chicken.
Q: What is it like to work with your sibling?
Aubry: It's pretty awesome . I couldn't imagine owning a business with anyone else.
Kale: The only argument we've ever had was over the shape of the breakfast sausage, and it's been pretty smooth ever since.
Aubry: Kale won. I always knew he was right, but I just like the links. We've had a couple of TV companies want to do a reality show with us. The first question they always ask me is, "What do you hate about working with your brother?" And when I say, "Nothing," they say, "Then this isn't a very interesting show, is it, Aubry?" They always want to create conflict.
Q: Has the vegan universe changed in the past few years?
Kale: It's a completely different world. There's so much out there. It's a little golden age that we're experiencing, and it's only getting better.
Aubry: Even five years ago when we went on a road trip out West, we had to eat packets of saltines with ketchup and mustard. Now, we can go anywhere and eat at any fill-in-the-blank fast-food name. The world is changing, and we're happy to be here for it.