Plant Based Butcher Gets Funding From The Dragons’ Den
Cover photo from Dragons’ Den
There’s been a lot of buzz around the opening of a plant based butcher shop in the states, but Canadian’s have proudly boasted their own meatless protein counter since June 2014. In Toronto, Yamchops has had a huge impact on the vegan, vegetarian, and “flexitarian” (I still hate that word) communities. And after last night’s appearance on the hit entrepreneurial tv show Dragons’ Den, there’s a good chance they’ll be converting tastebuds well past our borders. I was privileged to attend a dinner and screening of this little business’ next big steps.
Photo by blogTO
Currently a 1500 square foot family affair nestled in to the Little Italy district of the city, father and chef Michael Abramson has made a name for Yamchops with diner favourites like Carrot Lox, Beet Burgers, and Beefless Szechuan Beef (their best selling item). Having followed a plant based diet for 41 years, this veteran is elevating the tofu-centric stereotypes of the vegan world one adventurous mouth at a time. With his wife Tori and daughters Leia and Jess by his side, he says “if behind every good man is a great woman, I’m proof of what three great woman can do.” Having conquered brick and mortar, catering, and distributing to local speciality shops, the team set their sights on franchising (something they’ve received over 100 requests for). That’s where the Dragons’ Den comes in.
The reality tv show features entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in the hopes of securing an investment from a panel of venture capitalists. The family has three decades of experience in advertising (they owned their own agency), and brought their best branded aprons, butcher counter, and Yamchops scale along for the pitch. Requesting $250,000 in exchange for 20% of the business, the family wowed the five hungry dragons who were in complete disbelief of the texture and taste of their faux foods. Though they insisted to viewers at the episode screening that they were nervous, the trio (Leia is more behind the scenes) were all smiles as one by one, the Dragons’ drew back from making a deal. Keeping the integrity of the food seemed to be the projected biggest challenge.
Photo by blogTO
Just as all hope seemed lost, Jim Treliving of the Boston Pizza restaurant chain, stepped up to usher Yamchops in to the Dragons’ Den hall of fame. They were awarded their $250K, but for a slightly steeper 30% stake. Jim also requested 50% say at the table, but who can blame him for wanting to share a table with this family again.
The win was celebrated by a roaring audience, who were likely still swept up in the emotional words of the family members who spoke. Jess let us in on the deep dark secret that Michael preferred potatoes to yams. Michael inspired us with his ambition to follow his dreams at 59 years old (what he calls the perfect time). And Toni reminded attendees that it’s ‘Yambassadors” who have made it all possible. Keeping the tradition of Michael’s Jewish mother alive, they did more than just thank us over microphones – they fed us! There were bread bowls filled with butter chicken (an item not available at the shop), as well as an aptly named ‘Dragons’ Bowl,’ a colourful mix of rice and veggies. To wash it down, a small selection of the shops popular Au Jus was available in too-cute miniature bottles. I went with the ‘Dragons’ BBQ Brew,’ which had apple, alkaline water, ginger, lemon, activated charcoal, cinnamon and cayenne. My partner opted for the ‘Green Dragon,’ a refreshing mix of pineapple, kale, lemon, ginger, and cayenne.
Full, and wishing I had come up with the idea for a vegan butcher shop myself, I headed home with one (or two) goodie bags they had lovingly Oprah’d under our seats (and you get a cashew cheese, and you get a cashew cheese).
It’s not hard for diners or dragons to see that the compassion and dedication of this family has helped start what will surely be an empire. Their impact on the accessibility of great vegan protein options is something that every city deserves. I look forward to seeing what kind of world domination this financial support will lend them, and what new food creations those opportunities breed.