Chicago -- Poet Carl Sandburg may have dubbed Chicago has the "hog butcher for the world," but a local couple wants to make the city more friendly to non-meat eaters. Ashouraita Khoshaba and Cole Bright have a dream of opening Chicago's first vegan butcher and deli -- The Anti Butcher -- serving sandwiches made out of faux meats using seitan and other vegan ingredients. They've launched a Kickstarter to fund their project with the hope of opening in the spring or summer.
The country's first vegan butcher -- The Herbivorous Butcher -- opened in January 2016 in Minneapolis, drawing long lines of folks who missed the taste of items they grew up eating and others who just wanted to try something different. They serve faux meats such as a porterhouse steak and Korean short rib. Their success even attracted Guy Fieri's piercing gaze. Many Chicago vegans are jealous of friends in the Twin Cities, and that opened the door for Khoshaba and Bright.
Known as the Tiny Vegan, a callout to Khoshaba's stature, they've served local food festivals for the last two and a half years and feel now is the time to open a storefront. While they haven't found a location, they'd prefer to keep it on the North Side, perhaps in Ravenswood or Uptown. The latter is where Kal'ish, a popular vegan restaurant, is located. While vegan camaraderie is important, Bright knows the important of outreach beyond that community. Many of their fans are omnivores impressed with "vegan analogues" -- items like vegan Italian sausages and bratwursts.
"We get asked this a lot," Bright said. "We're vegan for the animals, we kind of grew up eating meat so it's not that we particularly hate any of the dishes -- it's more the moral aspect of it."
Bright is a machinist by trade and brings a science background. Textures are key to any faux meat, and he uses that knowledge while Khoshaba concentrates on the flavors. Khoshaba grew up in Rogers Park and is Assyrian. That gives her advantage in America as her background allowed her access to different spices and flavors. She applies the knowledge in flavoring foods like vegan salami. They use tapioca pearls to emulate fat. Bright compared what they do to molecular gastronomy.
Khoshaba, as a Chicaogan, laments that the third-largest American city has reluctance when it comes embracing vegan products. The two run a wholesale retail business with clients in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. N.Y.'s Orchard Grocer stocks their products, alongside Chicago's Upton's Naturals, a popular local vegan brand. Bright described their items as more artisanal; they hope to serve vegan charcuterie. Khoshaba is keen on mixing up a flavor vegan shawarma.
"I've always loved cooking, I grew up with a lot of flavorful Assyrian foods," she said, sensing an opportunity. "Vegan meats are lacking because they don't have a lot of flavor."
She knows that the Kickstarter's $40,000 goal is a high one, but it was intentionally set high. Khoshaba also said she feels that with their experience serving festivals and filling nationwide orders that she and Bright are ready to open a storefront.
Bright, a native Californian, went vegetarian and eventually turned vegan two years after he first started dating Khoshaba; they've been together since 2012. The couple hopes that their business can inspire more to make the leap. More delicious items don't hurt. Eater Chicago will keep an eye on the Anti-Butcher as plans progress.