Jake Herren knows all about the meatless life. Herren cut out red meat and pork 12 years ago, going fully pescetarian soon after. “It was mainly because I was eating too many cheeseburgers,” he says, laughing. He cut out most meat in an effort to take better care of his body in his 20s, taking the plunge into full vegetarianism after badly burning his arm in a welding accident. “It smelled just like chicken,” he says, noting that it was the push he needed to bid adieu to meat for good.
It wasn’t the easiest transition. “I kept having these dreams about cheeseburgers, which was really tough,” he says. Herren began experimenting with various veggie burgers, eating Qorn patties and other brands. “This was long before the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat,” he says. “Eventually it was like, ‘Why don’t I just make my own veggie burgers?’” From there, he explored different meat substitutes including seitan and vegetable protein, even making his own meatless Italian sausage to top homemade pizzas. The sausage became popular in Herren’s social circle, and he realized there was a need for his product. Still, to truly succeed, Herren had to convince the carnivores. “Growing up, we had meat with every meal,” he says. “I realized I could sell [my product] when I brought some burgers to my dad, and he told me that he would give up meat for them.”
Herren was able to perfect several meat substitute recipes using a variety of Eastern-inspired ingredients and techniques. Now his products are available at area restaurants including Druff’s and Piccolo, and they’re on shelves at MaMa Jean’s Natural Market. “My business philosophy is to provide vegan meat to vegans, but also to people who would consider the occasional meatless meal if it’s accessible and delicious,” he says. Herren takes it day by day, but his goal is clear: to make the world a better place one juicy meatless patty at a time.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Salt. I really like salty food, and I feel like a lot of the stuff that I find around town is really undersalted. Salt is a big part of what makes the flavor in a sausage or any kind of seasoned meat. I’ve tried a few different salts – Durango’s hickory-smoked sea salt, et cetera – and they have their purpose. For what I’m doing, I tend to stick with a standard sea salt.
What's your perfect day of eating in Springfield? I’m definitely a stay-in-for-breakfast kind of guy. I usually make my own vegan pancakes – I’ll put my breakfast sausage in them instead of using chocolate chips. For lunch, I’d probably do Druff’s, and I’d probably go to dinner at Piccolo in Nixa. Piccolo has a fantastic menu. For drinks, probably either [Scotch & Soda] or Golden Girl. I also really like Tie & Timber – their beer is fantastic.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? I think that restaurant owners are quickly realizing how much people want meatless options – it’s like, “Yeah, we should have been doing this a long time ago.” Since I’ve been keeping a vegan diet, I’ve found it nearly impossible to dine out. Now I can go places but a lot of it is the stuff I can make at home, things I eat all the time. Now, a lot of local business owners are seeing amazing results by carrying meatless products. For example, almost everybody I’ve started selling to has doubled or tripled their order within the first week because they keep selling out of it. Vegans in Springfield are so excited to find out that these options are even here. It’s good news for a group of people who are passionate about the ethics of food and desperate for options.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? One thing that gave me a huge boost was finding good vegetable broths that imitate chicken stock and beef stock. The best brand out there by far is Better Than Bouillon. They have these no-beef and no-chicken broths – they come in a little jar, and they’re unbelievably tasty.
What are your future plans? The idea of expanding is pretty intimidating to me.... I definitely don’t want employees until I can provide a good life for them. I’m hoping to scale up in some ways – looking at getting loans, talking to the health inspector about putting a food truck in my backyard for prep, things like that. Right now, I’m working out of the kitchen at Bambinos Cafe, but it would be great to have a space of my own.
Jake's Burgers, facebook.com/JakesVeganBurgers