The 27-yr-aged Oakland market place powering East Bay restaurants’ vegan meat

A dish designed with Layonna’s gluten-totally free fried hen, just one of the Oakland company’s finest sellers. Credit history: Layonna

Layonna Vegetarian Overall health Meals Current market
443 8th St. (near Broadway), Oakland
Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., supply is via DoorDash

Ever question where by the Flying Falafel gets its savory fake chicken? Or exactly where The Butcher’s Son receives its succulent mock shrimp? What about Aburaya’s vegan drumsticks? The secret’s out: They all arrive from Oakland’s Layonna Vegetarian Overall health Foodstuff Sector, which has been furnishing meatless solutions for dining establishments and house cooks since very long before terms like “beyond” and “impossible” were synonymous with plant-based mostly dining, and back again when “food tech” referred to newfangled money registers, not venture cash-backed protein attempts.

Layona Lee, then an East Bay resident, founded the company in 1995, partnering with multiple Taiwanese brands to make Layonna-branded foods. The business was supposed to be eponymous, says Samual Wong, who’s owned the shop given that 2015.

“When she filed a company license, she by accident put in two Ns,” Wong stated, so Layona the individual owned Layonna the industry, working with a range of vendors to make Layonna-branded food items. All through the 20 many years she owned the corporation, she never ever bothered to change the name. 

Peter Fikaris, who owns Berkeley vegan bakery and deli The Butcher’s Son with his sister, Christina Stobing, stated his family members has applied Layonna’s items throughout two generations. 

“We owned a vegan cafe back again in the ’90s in Berkeley our father opened it and we labored there as teenagers,” Fikaris explained. “It was called Michael’s American Vegetarian Diner. We did not make a ton of our meat substitutes in-home like we do now, so we made use of a great deal of Layonna’s meat substitutes on our menu,” he stated. 

Layonna’s most recent product or service is a vegan Spam substitute. Credit history: Layonna/Facebook

Back again then, Layonna was “pretty considerably a one particular cease store for everything and anything in the earth of vegan meats.”

Whilst vegetarian and vegan dining establishments were being by now common in Berkeley in the 1990s, back then, eating places that presented meat-like dishes for non-meat eaters had been much less ubiquitous than they are now. Layonna crammed that void.

“I turned to meat substitutes due to the fact I skipped consuming their animal-based mostly counterparts,” Fikaris explained. “I appreciated eating meat.”

Nonetheless, “I didn’t like the thought of feeding on animals,” Fikaris explained. “It bothered me quite a great deal.”

A long time afterwards, Layonna materials a slew of East Bay places to eat like the aforementioned Butcher’s Son and Flying Falafel, as well as Jack London Sq. Thai location Farmhouse Kitchen area and SF’s Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya and its Berkeley counterpart, Tane Vegan Izakaya. You are going to also obtain Layonna’s meat substitutes at a range of space foods vans, Asian temples and at SF’s Rainbow Grocery and Berkeley Bowl.

When you check out, you can see why: The array of foodstuff readily available through Layonna is seriously brain-blowing, which includes everything from vegan pepper steak to vegan sea cucumber (inspite of sharing its name with a plant, the sea cucumbers you’d locate in the ocean are actually animals). There are frozen fake meats, dried treats and jerky, bulk soy proteins and a panoply of gluten-cost-free nuggets and cuts.

Layonna’s most well known items are its gluten-absolutely free vegan fried rooster, and its gluten-totally free vegan hen legs, Wong reported. The most the latest addition to their checklist of choices is a vegan edition of that Hawiian-cooking standby, Spam. “It is seriously good,” Wong stated. “Close to 99% actual Spam.”

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

Wong, who’s initially from Hong Kong, described his entry into the earth of vegan meat options as an unpredicted transform in his lifetime. 

“I’m just an ordinary Asian man, graduated from college, obtained a faculty degree, and then bought an office task,” Wong explained. “In 2015, by a coincidence, I satisfied Layona.” Ultimately, he expressed desire in obtaining the enterprise, performing underneath her for a spell prior to getting the procedure in excess of. 

“Layona was attempting to retire and I worked with her for a few months,” Wong stated, then the organization was his. But Layonna hasn’t seen the past of Layona, even now, Wong claimed. 

Nevertheless Lee herself moved to Taiwan submit-retirement, she’s still included, given that most of Layonna’s products and solutions are nonetheless created there. “Layona has come to be our excellent command,” Wong reported. “She has a incredibly close relationship with our producer and would make absolutely sure all the things is analyzed.”

That notice to detail is escalating far more and much more important as properly-funded competition enter Layonna’s mock meat ring. But in accordance to people like The Butcher’s Son’s Fikaris, demand from customers is climbing as well.

People are turning to meat substitutes “for their overall health, for the earth, for the animals,” Fikaris reported. But also, “it is since they even now adore those foods, and are searching for an option more suited to their current preference.”

Elise Proulx graduated from UC Berkeley in 1991. Following living in other places for a couple decades, she returned to Berkeley in 2009 and hopes she under no circumstances leaves.

Trisha Anderson

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