I like stories with happy endings; this is ours:
I have been making vegan cheese for the last few years. I've always loved dairy cheese, and I still do, however, I cannot deny certain factors that go into its production. I take issue with the treatment of animals used for dairy products, their ultimate demise, as well as the plethora of antibiotics, hormones, and various other questionable substances that end up in dairy products, including cheese.
I also believe that vegan food is some of the most delicious, creative food available, and when it comes to vegan dairy, I think that you CAN have your cheese and eat it too!
Until early this year, I had never even thought about trying to sell any vegan cheese. I had only made it to eat at home. However, after a year of devestating, life-altering events, I found myself in a dark place. Feeling lost and very alone, I naturally gravitated to the one place that has always made me feel better; my kitchen. I starting cooking, and experimenting with new ingredients, recipes, and techniques, and before I knew it, I was making a LOT of cheese. I was also feeling much better! I believe very strongly that the process of making vegan cheese brought a renewed sense of purpose, and positive energy into my life, and I will always be grateful for that.
In January, I decided to put the cheese out there for people to try; it was a hit! The vegan community in Denver embraced my little "project" in a way that I never expected! It didn't take long for the word to spread about Door 86, and soon we were being invited to participate as a vendor at vegan supper clubs, wine tastings, and other markets. In February, I launched a Facebok page, and was soon inundated by emails, and phone calls from people as far away as Ireland and England (what?!?!?!) who wanted the cheese.
By March, demand was so great that I knew I needed to make a big decision; should I go wholesale, and make it a 'real' business or not? I decided to move forward and take a chance. My plan is make the product and ship it to various groceries around the country so that vegans can enjoy a variety of Door 86 cheeses.
HERE is our review in Denver Westword:
Everyone always asks how/why I started making the cheese. Simply put, I love cheese and wanted to offer a vegan version of the good stuff! There isn't a lot out there for vegans to choose from, and I just think that we should be able to have as many choices as the dairy counterparts. VEGANS NEED THE CHEESE!
Here is a link to a recent vegan MeetUp that featured Door 86 Cheeses along with vegan wines!
Besides all this, the product has brought happiness to so many people, myself included. Everytime someone says "I'm so happy I found your cheese", or "I was vegetarian, but now I can go vegan", it makes me soul-satisfyingly happy. I also find it to be a very humbling experience.
I am beyond honored that I can serve compassionate, supportive, and loving vegan communities, and find myself blown away by the people I have met and have been priveledged to get to know. For me, it's not just about selling cheese; it's about people, and building strong relationships with them. It's about being part of their lives, and caring about their stories. It's also about giving back to, supporting, and growing our local vegan community, and especially, other vegan businesses so we can all support the animal community that is the center of the vegan universe!
A podcast with John Salley, and JL Fields, who reviewed our cheese on "Our Hen House"
WHAT WE DO WITH FUNDS:
Kitchen Equipment: In order to make Door 86 wholesale ready, we need to secure our kitchen space. We have toured local commissary kitchens, and we have found one that we feel will suit our needs very well. Rather than being an hourly rental space, this particular kitchen will charge a flat rate of $380.00 per month. We would like to use part of the funds to pay for 3 months of kitchen space in advance. Another kitchen related expense we will immediately face is equipment: we will need to purchase a pan rack for curing our cheeses, which will cost $200.00, as well as other equipment such as an industrial food prep blender ($1,000.00), bowls, utensils, 2 dehydrators, several sheet pans, pan grates (cooling racks), cheese cloth, and cheese forms, all of which will cost approximately $2,000.00. In addition we would like to purchase a chamber vacuum machine (approx. $1,500.00) to vacuum seal our product for safer shippping. Total costs for these supplies would run approx. $4,840.00.
Cashews and Cultures: Cashews are the base of 99% of our cheese. Cashews are perfect for consistancy, but they are not always cheap! We need to purchase bulk orders of them to get us started. We also need to purchase culturing materials like quinoa grains, coconut kefirs, soy milk for yogurt, spices, and miso. We will purchase as many products locally as we can, but cashews are not grown in the USA and we need to procure them from a supplier. The best prices we have found so far on cashews is $4.50 per pound. During the first few months, we would like to order 200 pounds of cashews to get us up and running, and get those waiting orders OUT into the stores. The cashews will cost approximately $900.00, with other ingredients costing an additional (approx.) $300.00 for bulk purchases. The total needed is $1,200.00
Take This Cheese and Ship It: We also need to purchase packaging materials such as plastic tubs for our fresh goat-style cheeses, cream cheeses, and cheeseballs. Insulation materials and cold ship packaging are also needed to get our initial orders out to stores. We would like to ship Priority to keep shipping costs down, and these materials are necessary in order to allow us to do that. We will need approx. $1,000.00 on the purchse of shipping materials.
What people are saying about Door 86 Vegan Cheese:
"That sriracha cheese is out of this world!" --Manuela
"Please , please bring lemon thyme cheese. It was sold out at neat market. Soooo delicious!" --Gabriele
"I sampled them last week... and every flavor was AMAZING!" --Barbara
"Have had the cheeses before. You are in for a real treat!" --Anne
"Okay, that sriracha cheddar blows my mind every time I taste it. And they always seem to sell out of that one first, so clearly we're not the only ones who love it". --Barb
"This is the most wonderful product! I ordered a variety of Door 86's cheeses earlier this year. All were spectacular". --Jennifer
Risks and challenges
As with any business, there are risks involved, but I believe that when it's something you love, it is worth it. I love to cook and serve people really good food; it's who I am. I love it. So I'm ready to take the plunge, and offering unique and delicious vegan cheese is what I'm ready to do.
The response we have received in Denver over the last 6 months is proof that our cheeses are delicious! Another important factor is that our sales have increased by over 150% EACH TIME we have gone to the local market to sell product. Additionally, we sell out of product everytime, and go home with pre-orders for more. We are constantly receiving orders, and inquiries via email about our cheese.
To give a good idea of our future success, it's also important to share that restaurants and grocery stores from around the country have already approached us to sell our products in their establishments. On-line retailers have also made offers, and we plan on going forward with most offers as soon as possible!
As far as challenges are concerned, I have no doubt that we will face challenges from time to time, as any business does. I think the most challenging part of this business will be keeping up with demand because that has been the biggest challenge so far. We have been producing in a very small kitchen that does not allow us to produce enough cheese to meet the demands of our clients. That said, I want the cheese to remain hand-crafted and small batch--it will NEVER be mass produced--but I know that with a commissary kitchen we can certainly produce more product without losing that quality.
Any setbacks that occur will be immediately addressed. Just as backers will continue to receive updates on all progress as we move toward vegan cheese heaven, any and all setbacks will also be updated. If the setbacks are related to our backer rewards, we will contact our backers to arrange for any changes that need to be implemented.
Customer service is something we really understand, and take great pride in. We always strive to go above and beyond our customers' expectations, because quite simply, without great customer service, we have nothing! Because of this philosophy, we have built a very steady base clientele and we will continue to respect, and foster those relationships, as well as new ones.
- (45 days)