Serious Eats: New York

Food Artisans: Checking in on The Regal Vegan

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[Photograph: The Regal Vegan]

When this column last spoke to Ella Nemcova, of The Regal Vegan, she was focused exclusively on producing and promoting Faux Gras, her delicious vegan walnut-lentil pâté.

In the two years since then, Nemcova has added another product, cashew-based Basilicotta. "People who have gone vegan understand cashew cheese," she says, but for those who don't, she explains that the nuts are soaked, then processed with fresh basil and Himalayan pink salt "for the mineral content." The result is a creamy, spreadable product that tastes like a cross between pesto and ricotta.

Nemcova spent a lot of time as a caterer, and developed numerous products that she could have added to her line. She opted for this one, she says, because they work together so well to satisfy vegan snack cravings. "Faux Gras is the meaty, Basilicotta is the cheesy," she explains. "They can sit next to each other on the shelf and make sense."

In addition to product development, Nemcova spent the last few years learning how to run a business, which she calls "the biggest learning curve of my entire life," adding, "There are just so many variables. You might be great at marketing but terrible at customer service or financial analysis, and it's all equally important." Adding an employee or two or an intern to the mix complicates things further. "Being a manager is a whole other skill set," Nemcova says, "You have to be good at all of it."

She believes that the smartest thing she did, business-wise, was to establish a very clear mission for her company from the outset. It's threefold: Regal Vegan aims to love the person (both one's palate and one's health), love the planet, and love the animal. "It made it much easier to make decisions" to have these guiding principles to consider, she says. So when confronted with a question—whether to add canola oil to a product to reduce costs, for example—she could look to her mission and say, no, that's not going to improve the health of my customers and, therefore, not something I do.

An article last month on the Atlantic Wire called Nemcova out for what the author believed was an off-putting focus on love, a complaint that Nemcova believes is more than a little disingenuous. "Obviously, I'm not saying I'm in love with everyone who eats my products," she says, "Secretly putting superfoods in delectable treats, that's how I love people. When someone emails, you write them back. Or if someone is unhappy, you reimburse them. That's all loving people."

While every successful small food company starts with a good product, that ends up being a very small part of the endeavor is the end. "Making something good is easy," Nemcova says, "It's about figuring out your passion and principles and sticking with them. If you still make money at the end of the day, then you have a business."

For more about Nemcova, including information about upcoming vegan cooking classes, visit her site.

About the author: Stephanie Klose acknowledges that you might have more mustard than she does, but she loves you anyway. You can follow her on twitter at @sklose.

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