For 2 vegan businesses, St. Louis proved the perfect launch pad
The Midwest is not the first place most people think of when it comes to a robust vegan food scene. But for two local business owners, St. Louis was the perfect place to launch businesses focused on plant-based offerings.
Rita Childers started selling vegan “cheese” sauce with her business partner Candi Haas in 2016, and Core + Rind is now in stores throughout the country. Marc Connor started the plant-based meal delivery service Rootberry just last year. The company has already seen tremendous growth, with its prepared meals available in retail outlets in addition to home and office delivery.
So how did these two find success in a city known for barbecue, cake made with cream cheese and, of course, the meaty, cheesy delicacy that is toasted ravioli? Connor said it’s all about introducing more plant-based food into people’s diets, but not forcing anyone into full-blown veganism.
“You can still enjoy those things,” Connor said of classic St. Louis foods. “It goes back to our whole mission, which is ‘more people, more plants, more often.’ And so in a city that loves gooey butter cake and T-Ravs it's good, because just more plants more often is a good thing.”
Childers said she felt similarly. She and Haas started Core + Rind after they adopted a plant-based diet but didn’t want to give up some of their favorite meals.
“We really missed those comfort foods from childhood like mac and cheese and pizza,” Childers said. “And that's kind of where it stemmed from, because we wanted something that was made with, say, pumpkin, cashews, olive oil, but tasted like delicious, creamy mac and cheese.”
Both Childers and Connor have seen their businesses boom. Core + Rind is now in 1,000 stores across the U.S., including Schnucks and Whole Foods, and Rootberry has 48 locations in the St. Louis area, including placement at Dierbergs Markets.
Childers said while some might be surprised by their growth from the Midwest, she isn’t.
“I think in St. Louis, we just love good food here. So if plant-based is delicious, there's really no problem with it,” she said. “And I think that now there are more and more delicious plant based foods. You know, the Midwest is definitely taking more of that on.”
Connor said starting in St. Louis — versus a city already associated with veganism — was one of the keys to Rootberry’s success. A “flexitarian” rather than a strict vegan, he sees Rootberry as perfect for people wanting to add a vegan meal or two to their roster, not only people already committed to the lifestyle.
“First of all, it's our hometown, it's our family or friends and we also wanted to do something that would make our hometown proud,” he said. “But also the fact that it isn't limited just to people that are already eating plant based. We wanted to expand it completely to everyone — even just one meal makes a difference.”
Both Connor and Childers were sold on plant-based foods after making changes to their diet and noticing a dramatic shift in their energy levels and overall health. Now, they’re hoping to spread that influence as far as they can.
“I hope that St. Louis will be an amazing success,” Connor said. “And that we will be throughout the Midwest in major markets with our own kitchens delivering locally, and really being a standard for what great plant-based food can be in people's lives.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.