The 27-year-old Oakland market behind East Bay restaurants’ vegan meat

The 27-year-old Oakland market behind East Bay restaurants’ vegan meat
A dish built with Layonna’s gluten-totally free fried rooster, one particular of the Oakland company’s most effective sellers. Credit history: Layonna

Layonna Vegetarian Overall health Food Marketplace
443 8th St. (close to Broadway), Oakland
Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., shipping is by means of DoorDash

At any time marvel wherever the Traveling Falafel will get its savory fake chicken? Or in which The Butcher’s Son receives its succulent mock shrimp? What about Aburaya’s vegan drumsticks? The secret’s out: They all come from Oakland’s Layonna Vegetarian Wellness Food items Market place, which has been supplying meatless selections for restaurants and home cooks due to the fact lengthy prior to text like “beyond” and “impossible” were being synonymous with plant-based eating, and back when “food tech” referred to newfangled funds registers, not venture capital-backed protein efforts.

Layona Lee, then an East Bay resident, established the business enterprise in 1995, partnering with numerous Taiwanese companies to make Layonna-branded foods. The enterprise was intended to be eponymous, suggests Samual Wong, who’s owned the store because 2015.

“When she submitted a business license, she by incident put in two Ns,” Wong mentioned, so Layona the man or woman owned Layonna the sector, doing work with a variety of suppliers to make Layonna-branded foodstuff. All through the 20 a long time she owned the corporation, she by no means bothered to change the title. 

Peter Fikaris, who owns Berkeley vegan bakery and deli The Butcher’s Son with his sister, Christina Stobing, claimed his family has utilised Layonna’s merchandise across two generations. 

“We owned a vegan cafe back again in the ’90s in Berkeley our father opened it and we labored there as young people,” Fikaris reported. “It was known as Michael’s American Vegetarian Diner. We did not make a great deal of our meat substitutes in-dwelling like we do now, so we utilised a lot of Layonna’s meat substitutes on our menu,” he reported. 

Layonna’s newest merchandise is a vegan Spam substitute. Credit score: Layonna/Fb

Back then, Layonna was “pretty substantially a one prevent shop for every thing and something in the earth of vegan meats.”

Although vegetarian and vegan eating places were being presently preferred in Berkeley in the 1990s, back again then, places to eat that made available meat-like dishes for non-meat eaters were being much less ubiquitous than they are now. Layonna loaded that void.

“I turned to meat substitutes mainly because I missed feeding on their animal-centered counterparts,” Fikaris reported. “I preferred having meat.”

On the other hand, “I didn’t like the concept of having animals,” Fikaris explained. “It bothered me quite a whole lot.”

A long time afterwards, Layonna provides a slew of East Bay dining places like the aforementioned Butcher’s Son and Traveling Falafel, as nicely as Jack London Square Thai spot Farmhouse Kitchen area and SF’s Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya and its Berkeley counterpart, Tane Vegan Izakaya. You are going to also come across Layonna’s meat substitutes at a amount of spot foods vans, Asian temples and at SF’s Rainbow Grocery and Berkeley Bowl.

When you visit, you can see why: The array of meals out there as a result of Layonna is genuinely thoughts-blowing, such as every thing from vegan pepper steak to vegan sea cucumber (regardless of sharing its name with a plant, the sea cucumbers you’d find in the ocean are really animals). There are frozen fake meats, dried snacks and jerky, bulk soy proteins and a panoply of gluten-totally free nuggets and cuts.

Layonna’s most popular merchandise are its gluten-free vegan fried rooster, and its gluten-totally free vegan rooster legs, Wong said. The most modern addition to their checklist of choices is a vegan model of that Hawiian-cooking standby, Spam. “It is seriously very good,” Wong reported. “Close to 99% true Spam.”

Layonna’s vegan abalone is manufactured with konjac powder, tapioca starch, sugar and sea salt. Credit: Layonna

Wong, who’s at first from Hong Kong, defined his entry into the planet of vegan meat alternate options as an unforeseen flip in his lifetime. 

“I’m just an standard Asian dude, graduated from college, got a college or university degree, and then acquired an office environment position,” Wong reported. “In 2015, via a coincidence, I met Layona.” Eventually, he expressed desire in getting the business, doing the job under her for a spell in advance of getting the procedure in excess of. 

“Layona was making an attempt to retire and I labored with her for a few months,” Wong explained, then the business enterprise was his. But Layonna hasn’t viewed the previous of Layona, even now, Wong claimed. 

Nevertheless Lee herself moved to Taiwan article-retirement, she’s nonetheless concerned, considering the fact that most of Layonna’s solutions are nevertheless manufactured there. “Layona has grow to be our top quality manage,” Wong said. “She has a very close partnership with our producer and helps make positive every thing is examined.”

That consideration to element is escalating more and much more important as properly-funded competition enter Layonna’s mock meat ring. But according to folks like The Butcher’s Son’s Fikaris, demand from customers is climbing too.

Men and women are turning to meat substitutes “for their wellbeing, for the earth, for the animals,” Fikaris said. But also, “it is mainly because they nevertheless really like those people foodstuff, and are searching for an option much more suited to their recent choice.”

Elise Proulx graduated from UC Berkeley in 1991. Following living in other places for a few many years, she returned to Berkeley in 2009 and hopes she by no means leaves.