Kristina Addington and Jeff Hennis have been keeping busy in 2016, first with the growth of V-Box, a growing offshoot concept from their popular V-Grits vegan food truck, and then with Bluegrass VegFest, Louisville’s first vegan festival.
The couple now plans to open a V-Grits facility at 1643 Portland Ave. The 3,800-square-foot space will serve not only as a production headquarters for the V-Box service, which ships do-it-yourself vegan meal kits around the region each week, but also as a vegan cafe and “deli.”
The production facility also will be part of a new product line of vegan cheese sauces they’re calling “Soul Sauces,” which will include a mild cheddar sauce, a mozzarella sauce and vegan pimento cheese spread (all are made with cashews).
They unveiled the products at a conference this summer in New York, and the response prompted them to move forward.
“Everyone in New York freaked out about” the cheese sauces, Hennis told Insider.
So, if you’re a fan of the V-Grits food truck and have noticed it has been somewhat MIA this summer, it’s because finding the space and launching the product line have been consuming most of the V-Grits owners’ time. From designing and creating product labels to an emergency lab test of sorts as part of gaining legal permission to call their products gluten-free, the process has been time-consuming.
“We decided to do this in, like, May,” Hennis said. “We thought it would take three weeks.”
The lab test incident, Addington said, was particularly stressful since it was something they hadn’t considered earlier in the process. Moving forward with establishing the Soul Sauces brand hinged on getting the tests done quickly. Hennis called it a “true startup moment,” while Addington said rushing the sauces to Cincinnati for testing was like carrying a kidney in a cooler.
But everything passed with flying colors. The cafe and production facility likely will be up and running in early 2017, Addington said, but added, “I really think by October we’ll be in some stores” with the cheese products. She estimates the cafe likely will open by spring of next year.
Calling the space “a shell of a building,” Addington said the owner will do the build-out. The cafe portion will have an open-air aspect to it and will carry many if not all the favorites available on the food truck, including the barbecue made with jackfruit, a barbecue burger, and the highly popular macaroni and cheese. The hope is to also add a vegan hot brown and other items.
In fact, the cafe will serve as a test kitchen, where new recipes will be rolled out to the public for direct marketing research. Also in the plans for the new menu are an iron skillet dish, vegan wings and pimento cheese grits. A Saturday brunch is in the offing as well, featuring vegan biscuits and gravy, french toast and the like.
“All the stuff you would not think you would get” at a vegan restaurant, Addington said.
The hope is for the cafe to serve local craft beer, wine and kombucha; the space also will be available for meet-ups and events, while cooking classes are planned for the production kitchen. In addition to the cafe, there will be a “deli” featuring retail products such as the house-made cheese sauces, drinks, as well as a vegan butcher shop, so to speak, offering vegan deli “meats” and sausages. Eventually, cafe customers will be able to order items like a vegan beef and cheddar sandwich, an item Hennis and Addington already have tested and rolled out.
“It was so awesome,” Hennis said. “People loved it.”
Of course, what all this means is that the V-Grits food truck likely won’t be in circulation much going forward — at least not as often as previously. However, Hennis noted that because V-Grits will have a production facility at its disposal, setting up at events will be easier, and larger scale menus also will become more realistic.
“It’s very possible we will sell the food truck,” Addington said.
If Portland’s gentrification continues, the truck might not even be necessary. They sought out the neighborhood specifically to help nurture the area’s growth. In fact, the cafe and production facility will be surrounded by green initiatives from Louisville Grows, an urban garden, and dye Scape, which cultivates plants for making natural dyes, as well as other businesses.
“We’re super excited about Portland,” Addington said. “We think it’s up and coming. And there are a bunch of hippies right on our street with us.”