Beth Taylor

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

Indigo Rael, left, faces off against Spring Karlo during a benefit event featuring womenÂ’s arm wrestling Thursday at Bar 96. CLAWstin, the local chapter of the Coalition of Ladies Arm Wrestling, raised more than four thousand dollars for a local charity at the event.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

“I’m here to make sure they’re all playing fair, but I ain’t fair,” referee Leah “The Boss” Moss yelled from the stage as she collected bribes from the audience. The crowd absolutely ate it up, chanting for the wrestlers during a spontaneous dance-off. Clearly, it is almost impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of a ladies’ arm wrestling match. 

CLAWstin, the Austin chapter of CLAW USA or Coalition of Lady Arm Wrestlers, held its first match Oct. 13 at Bar 96, where it raised about $4,700 for local charity 1house at a time. Co-founders and UT alumnae Beth Taylor, Jen Murrill and Amelia Byars Penoli expect the event to be biannual.

The idea came to Murrill from a good friend who was a part of the original CLAW in Charlottesville, Va. After sharing the idea of starting a local chapter with Taylor and Penoli, they thought Austin would be the perfect place for a league of lady arm wrestlers.

“We had to bring it to Austin,” Taylor said. “It just seemed like the perfect event, and obviously, we all liked the charity aspect, that it was a local charity, too.”

Today, Austin is one of several cities with a CLAW chapter. National board member and former wrestler Cathy Harding said it is becoming viral with seven member leagues and three apprentice leagues.

“It’s all about making women feel strong and happy and surprised with what they are doing, creating a fun evening for people who go and then providing meaningful charitable donations to organizations that might never get on the radar otherwise,” Harding said.

Each chapter is made up of a group of theatrical and philanthropic women who raise money for women-initiated causes that often get overlooked. Choosing the charity to receive the funds took a while, said Murrill. “Most of the charities that we found right off the bat already had a very well-established fundraising committee or development staff,” Murrill said. “So we had to really take a step back and look for something that’s really grassroots, really small.”

They chose local program 1house at a time, which helps to create energy-efficient homes for people who cannot afford their high utility costs. The charity is a part of the larger local charity A Nurtured World, which was started by Susan Roothaan.

After picking the charity, they sought out their wrestlers. Each event features eight wrestlers with their own persona, entourage and theme song. The first CLAWstin event featured characters such as Pain Fonda, inspired by ’80s fitness fiend Jane Fonda and Schauf Shank Redemption, an angry prison guard eager to take out her wrath through arm wrestling. Diana Davis, a UT law school alumna who was also a part of the event, played the role of Erin Rock-a-Bitch, the no-nonsense lawyer.

“I try not to be a lawyer pun all the time. Just because there’s so many bad lawyer jokes and puns as it is,” Davis said. “So I was brainstorming and for some reason just thought of Erin Rock-a-Bitch, and I think people reacted to it really well.”

Davis was asked to wrestle by her good friend Taylor. She had to think about it at first, but found it hard to say not to a combination of costumes, wigs and a good cause.

“I didn’t want to be cast in a bad light,” Davis said. “But I thought about it, and I like to entertain people and make people laugh, so I said sure.”

Davis has already told Taylor that she will wrestle again because she enjoyed it so much. Being a part of CLAW has not only already impacted Davis but has played a big role in Harding’s life as well. As a part of the original CLAW group, she has seen it grow to what it is today and could not be happier.

“We are providing some support and inspiration for other communities and women in other communities to discover this themselves,” Harding said about the national CLAW board. “At our heart, we try to keep that electricity alive for every other group that tries to start a chapter.”

Electricity and empowerment is exactly what Taylor, Murrill and Penoli hope to share with the Austin community, maybe even giving the wrestling a try themselves next time.

“We all just want to do something that’s bigger than us. Something that we can start and plant the seeds and watch it grow but then eventually turn it over to new people,” Taylor said. “And hopefully, it becomes a lasting event in Austin that raises money for years and years for local charities.”

Printed on Thursday, October 20, 2011 as: CLAWstin ladies arm wrestle for fun, philanthropy