The Hearty Vegan hopes to bring tempeh and other organic foods to larger retailers

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Mother-daughter duo Beth and Becky Taylor, known as The Hearty Vegan, are the only certified tempeh growers in Texas. Above is their tempeh, which can be used like beef or chicken. The Hearty Vegan is currently in UT co-ops and hopes to also sell their product in Whole Foods (Photo courtesy of The Hearty Vegan).

Despite the shadow of today’s stifling economy, small business owners Beth and Becky Taylor have subsisted on a passion for delicious food and the adoration of their loyal customers, specializing in the Indonesian delicacy called “tempeh.” This mother and daughter duo, known commercially as The Hearty Vegan, aims to extend their meatless cuisine beyond UT co-ops to larger retailers like Whole Foods Market.

For those unfamiliar with this particular derivation of soybeans, tempeh is a dish that originally developed in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. After being grinded and boiled, the beans are inoculated with what is known as a “starter,” or a specific type of fungal spores. For a subsequent period of 24 hours, the fungus digests the beans, breaking down the carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.

“It’s hard for humans to extract all of the nutrients that are in the beans, but once they are fermented, you really can,” Beth Taylor explained. “I brought this [tempeh] dish to a potluck once and it was so crowded that we didn’t really get a chance to explain what the food was, and when it came back around people were really surprised that they weren’t eating chicken.”

From barbeque to deep fry, tempeh is capable of taking on a whole range of tastes. Sharing a spongy texture comparable to most meat, it can even be used as a direct substitute for sausage, taco filler, kebabs and much more.

“It’s similar in protein content and nutrients to beef,” Becky Taylor said, “But you can marinate it and make it sort of any flavor you want.”

Since starting out, the Taylor family has picked a number of new retailers, most notably the Halstead and Taos co-ops that are located by UT’s campus. Ashley Birkner, a food coordinator at the Taos co-op, specifically looks out for local growers like Becky and Beth Taylor because they represent a sustainable consumer-producer relationship.

“Taos has been buying tempeh from them since last spring. One of the goals of the cooperative movement is to help in the building of a more sustainable society, and part of that is the growing of other cooperatives and small, local businesses,” remarked Birkner. “So, any time we find someone like The Hearty Vegan, who provides great service and great products, we’re excited to be able to do business with them.”

But as the Taylor family has discovered, winning over the hearts and stomachs of food lovers isn’t always ideal in a small business setting. The path to success has often been paved with sleepless nights and work without pay. Two years of cooking, marketing and saving has only just started turning a profit for The Hearty Vegan.

Though the learning curve has been steep, Becky Taylor said the company grew about 450 percent from the first to second year.

“If your mindset is, ‘There’s no other way but forward,’ then you work through all the things that make you quit and it’s very good, even for your own personal growth,” Beth added.

Nonetheless, copious amounts of unrelenting work are slowly beginning to pay off, and not just in revenue. After eight months deliberation with the Austin Health and Human Services Department, The Hearty Vegan is now the only certified tempeh grower in the state of Texas.

Because the production of tempeh involves keeping food within the “Danger Zone,” a set of temperatures between 41 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, this feat was not easy to come by.

“In order to get our stamp of approval, we had to figure out ways to deal with each of the main pathogens: salmonella, listeria and clostridium, which is botulism,” Beth Taylor said.

Becky and Beth Taylor now have their minds set on Whole Foods Market, a commercial retailer of locally-grown, organic food products. Even with distributors shipping tempeh to Dallas and San Antonio, catching the eye of Whole Foods could be The Hearty Vegan’s biggest break yet.

“Whole Foods said we have a great product, and that’s half of it, but you need a great label, and that’s the other half of it,” Becky said.

Independent of business growth, however, the Taylors assert that bigger ideas are at work behind their food.

“You can kind of love people through cooking for them,” Beth Taylor said. “And at the heart of it, it’s animal rights.”

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Vegan duo to expand: Small business hopes to sell tempeh to larger retailers, advocate veganism