How does a simple tofu-based vegan mayo transform into a dominant brand and thriving cafe? The humble climb of the original Vegenaise has taken decades, and we were enthralled by its telling by none other than the co-founder and CEO of Follow Your Heart, Bob Goldberg. Read on to learn more about the evolution of the company, what product Goldberg swears by, and the mouthwatering new products just around the corner.
VegNews: Let’s go back to the 1970s. It all seems to have blossomed from a jar of mislabeled mayo. Can you tell us how you found out your mayo supplier wasn’t what it claimed to be?
Bob Goldberg: The product was called Jack Patton’s Lecinaise and was marketed as being egg-free, sugar-free, and containing no preservatives. That all turned out to be false. We learned this from another retailer in the natural food industry who was kind enough to share his suspicions with us and then was the first to let us know when the fraud was later exposed. The good news is that it forced us into the kitchen and Vegenaise was the result.
VN: What were the first variations of Vegenaise like? What ingredients did you base it off of?
BG: The very first iterations of Vegenaise varied a lot from the Vegenaise of today. We used a high-grade almond oil and barley malt syrup rather than rice syrup. The very first successful Vegenaise used broken pieces of tofu to help form the emulsion. It wasn’t bad in those first trial days and has only improved over the years as we refined our ingredients and our process.
VN: What is it about mayo that “makes” a dish?
BG: Mayonnaise achieves a perfect balance of sweet, sour, and savory flavors. With its smooth, creamy texture, these characteristics come together to produce synergy and result in magic.
VN: 1970 was way before “vegetarian” (and definitely vegan) was trending en masse. Why start a vegetarian cafe?
BG: You almost had to be there to appreciate what a unique moment in history 1970 was. So many of us were caught up in the ethos of that moment and the four founding members of Follow Your Heart were no exception. We saw our mission as one of helping to bring about a kinder, more compassionate, more loving world—and what better way to do that than a community vegetarian eatery? One of my friends, Patty Shenker, coined a phrase that sums it all up perfectly: “Peace begins on your plate.”
VN: How long did you think about transitioning to an all-vegan menu before you pulled the trigger in 2018?
BG: This change has been a long time coming, and unlike my own switch from vegetarian to vegan, it wasn’t without some reservation. Mine was a personal choice so it was easy. The other is a choice that we would be making for others, and many of our patrons feel like Follow Your Heart is their own and that they should have a say in what it is. Our philosophy has always been to offer an alternative rather than pushing people to make changes in their lives that they have not chosen to make. But ultimately the day did arrive when we simply no longer felt comfortable putting dairy items out front, and we made exclusively vegan ingredients the default on the menu.
VN: While other plant-based companies have sold to larger corporations, FYH remains privately owned. What are the core values behind this principle?
BG: Follow Your Heart has always been a values-and-mission-based company. And the mission was never “make as much money as you can.” I have seen over the years many companies which have sold to larger corporations and I cannot think of a single instance where the company became a better company either for the people working there or for the consumers of their products. I do understand that there are many pressures that cause people to sell. Our tax laws make it almost impossible to hold on to a business as it passes from one generation to the next. I do not judge people who sell their businesses and walk away. But for me, I feel that remaining independent, if you can do it, is the best for all stakeholders.
VN: Of all the products under the FYH brand, what has been the most challenging to get right?
BG: We’ve probably worked harder to get cheese right than anything else. Cheese is really challenging to do without dairy, and people who have come from eating dairy cheese don’t want to accept an alternative that doesn’t check all the boxes. I think we’ve done an excellent job on those so far and we’re committed to the development of new and better varieties as well so that missing cheese will one day be a thing of the past.
VN: What product do you use most often, and how?
BG: In our home, we use almost exclusively the Organic Garlic Aioli Vegenaise. We keep several jars on hand just so we never run out. We use it on things you would never even think of, and it makes them taste better. Want to add some je ne sais quoi to that creamy potato leek soup? That’s the ticket. A light drizzle on the steamed broccoli? Knock yourself out. Got artichokes? Well … duh.
VN: When can consumers expect to find the pourable pancake mix, Rocket Cakes? Are there any other new products on the horizon?
BG: Rocket Cakes are very much on the launch pad and the countdown has begun. Sorry for the wait, but Rocket Cakes are on their way, and they’re amazing. On the same path as Rocket Cakes, our Ready-to-Pour VeganEgg won’t be far behind. Our Feta Cheese Crumbles will be on shelves soon as well as our luscious Avocado Oil Vegenaise. Speaking of Vegenaise, The Vegenaise Cookbook is now available.
Photo credit: Follow Your Heart