Lauren Marshall and Brandon Levesque didn’t have to wait long for feedback on their business.
Half an hour after their Facebook page Real Fake Meats went up one morning last month at 5 a.m., they had two orders. A few days later, the first edition of their vegan butcher boxes, selling like egg and milk-free hotcakes, was all gone.
“We have our bacon, we have our donair meat, we have brisket that we make with beets and we cut it with kidney beans, that gives it this beautiful red colour. And we coat it with soy sauce so when you bake it, it’s kind of crunchy and dark on the outside so when you cut it into it, it almost looks like a medium rare or medium steak,” Marshall said of their fare. “We have chickwheat, which is between wheat protein and chickpeas, and we shred that for like a pulled chicken. Then we have barbecued jackfruit, which is awesome, and sort of like pork. In India, it’s a common ingredient in curries.”
Three years ago, Marshall became the first chef from Nova Scotia to appear on Top Chef Canada, an experience that continues to shape her as a professional.
“Going in I was super confident, I was like ‘I rule, I could totally win this,’ whatever. Then, you look back on it and I think if I knew then
what I know now, I could’ve killed it. Obviously it shaped me a lot, because I can look back at that time and see how much I’ve grown since then.”
Marshall and Levesque produced 60 boxes for their first offering, plus a dozen or so gluten- free ones. They want to establish the business before moving on to the next phase.
“Right now, we’re focused on doing biweekly butcher boxes, not quite on a subscription basis but order per box basis, (then) hopefullyexpanding into sort of like a deli counter, like your typical butcher shop,” said Levesque, who’s both partner and protege. “You’ll go in, pick your meats, we weigh them up, maybe potentially we’ll do sandwiches.”
“There’ll be a little bit of takeand- go food, maybe a freezer with a couple of things. We want a nice big counter, so if you want to come hang out with us, you can sit at the counter, have a dirty cup of coffee and a deli sandwich, and shoot the shit. Not a restaurant, but butcher shop and counter,” added Marhall, who thinks the north end is the most likely locale, but wants to wait for the right place to make itself obvious. “We’re pretty in love with the north end, but we’ll see.”
The name for the business comes from an adult cartoon that Levesque is obsessed with called Rick and Morty. Marshall was grateful when he came up with it, because the previous names they bandied about were pretty bad.
“Like, at one point, we were going to call ourselves The Beleafers,” she said with an eye roll.
Real Fake Meats is aimed at a market that Marshall, formerly the chef de cuisine at the vegan restaurant En Vie, says has grown at an insane rate in Halifax over the last five years for so many reasons.
“Obviously you have that group of people that are animal activists but the way I approached it was lifestyle and health,” she said, adding that lots of people eat vegan dishes for no other reason than they like the way it tastes, but haven’t adopted any new lifestyle. “If you are somebody that continually eats this food, you could potentially get it every two weeks. We’re offering (in their first box) bacon, donair meat, garden burgers, chicken and two cheeses for 55 bucks.”
“We’re making it affordable for people, because a lot of the people that we’re friends with are northenders that don’t own cars, and we all support each other. We’re not rich, and we’re not trying to appeal to the rich.”