Mean Vegan is redefining tamales and barbecue in Kansas City

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Stephanie Shelton and Shawn Mock are going meatless with Mean Vegan.

Going vegan has meant going without to date. The narrative for veganism is often about what you have to give up in order to follow a new diet. It’s success through sacrifice.

But Mean Vegan, a Kansas City-based vegan food company that turns three years old this summer, is working to change the perception of what it means to eat vegan in a city with plenty of dedicated carnivores.

“We wanted to come up with products that tasted good and everybody – vegans, omnivores and carnivores — could enjoy,” co-founder Shawn Mock says of their Jack Tamales, Kansas City Jack-Bar-B-Q and Funguy Jerky. “We don’t want you to feel like you’re missing out on anything.”

Mock was like the rest of the rib-toting population in Kansas City just three years ago. An artist and contractor, he along with partner Stephanie Shelton, would barbecue on the weekends and chase their favorite tamale truck around town for a bit of foil-wrapped nirvana. But when a good friend, a nutritionist, and her husband made the decision to switch their diet for health reasons, Mock and Shelton decided to try the same change.

“They had more energy and they looked younger,” Shelton says. “But it was terrible timing, we had just bought a bunch of pork chops and sausages.”

While sausages were off the menu, Shelton and Mock didn’t really want to stop eating the things they’ve loved. So, they began experimenting with different iterations of the tamales they now sell.

“With going vegan, it’s a tamale wasteland. This was as much for us as everyone else,” Shelton says.

meanvegan-tamales-051514They settled on unripe jackfruit (a prickly tree fruit out of Southeast Asia), they also use it with their Jack Bar-B-Que, because its texture was most similar to meat and it held seasoning well. Mean Vegan’s tamales are about the size of a harmonica and they’re intentionally smaller than one might be used to seeing in a restaurant.

“With meat tamales, you usually have such a big serving size. They can be dry and there’s more masa than filling. Then you’ve got a mouthful of chicken and pork and there’s a bone or skin or fat,” Mock says.

“There are no surprises. You can eat these as fast as you want,” Shelton adds.

Their first large batch of 300 tamales took two days to make and sold out in two hours on a First Friday, where Mock and Shelton once sold their art. Today, they can crank the same size batch in their commercial kitchen in Waldo in just a few hours. They often don’t say that the tamales or barbecue is vegan, although they won’t hide the fact if asked.

“We’ve had people bring our stuff back and say, ‘no I wanted the vegan one.’” Mock says. “People usually think it’s chicken or pork.”

In staying true to KC barbecue, they use organic ketchup as the base for their sauce for the Kansas City Jack. After that, they go their own way with organic tamari and apple cider vinegar, in lieu of Worcestershire sauce, along with molasses and nutritional yeast. In addition to the tamales and barbecue, they also sell Funguy Jerky made from whole Portobello mushrooms. The Mellow & Smoky is spiced with tamari, molasses and apple cider vinegar, while the Sweet & Spicy gets its name from brown sugar, garlic and cayenne pepper.

“It’s dehydrated, so it’s chewy. It’s got a little bit of the crispiness on the outside and a little bit of sesame oil for umami,” Shelton says.

Shelton’s latest product in development is ChickUn. It’s jackfruit meant to mirror pulled chicken. She’s creating it to be used for sandwiches or as a pizza topping.

Mean Vegan’s products are sold by Door to Door Organics. They’re also at One More Cup (7408 Wornall) and McGonigle’s Market. Nature’s Pantry Market (19019 E 48th Street) in Independence makes a version of a Sloppy Joe, called a Sloppy Jack with their Jack Bar-B-Que. They’ll also be at the Taste of Local 2014 at Theis Park this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

[Image via Facebook: Mean Vegan]

Jonathan Bender

Jonathan Bender is the founder of The Recommended Daily.

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