When Stephanie Hoban moved back to Houston after living in New York for a few years, she was struck by the disappointingly small number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town. Rather than complain about it, she got to work.
The registered dietician and graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for the Health and Culinary Arts in New York City started a blog called Ripe: Healthy Seasonal Cuisine, where she tested recipes and wrote about her vegan lifestyle.
"I wanted to keep up with my passion, and I wanted the outlet," Hoban says. "I got positive feedback from it, but you don't know if people were actually cooking the food. I wanted people to actually taste the food that I made."
The best way to ensure that people are indeed enjoying your recipes? Make the food for them.
"There weren't always vegetarian and vegan options here in Houston," Hoban says. "One of the things that really struck me as odd was going to the farmers' market and seeing all this beautiful produce, but nothing vegetarian being made by the cooks there. That got my mind ticking, and I got this idea about becoming a small vendor at the farmers' markets and creating a pop-up cafe."
In May 2013, Hoban started Ripe Cuisine, a pop-up at Urban Harvest farmers' markets, where she sold complete vegan meals to customers who often weren't acquainted with all that vegan food could be. In fact, Hoban often serves customers who don't realize at first they're ordering vegan food. They'll ask her for a burger (because, she says, they look like actual burgers), and she'll have to explain that they're vegan.
"Usually they agree to try it anyway," she says, "and then I see them again the next week, and the week after that..."
After working the pop-up for about a year and figuring out what people respond to best (burgers and Tex-Mex), Hoban is ready for her next venture: A food truck.
"I've just been this amorphous, ambiguous pop-up cafe that sometimes does catering," Hoban says laughing. "And from that, I started getting requests: 'Are you a restaurant? Where else can I get your food? Do you do catering?'"
She always wanted to open a restaurant, but after crunching the numbers, she decided a food truck would be much more feasible. She's already purchased the truck, a 2006 Ford 14-foot step van. The recipes are solid. She has the manpower in the form of help from her family. Now all she needs is a little extra dough for the build-out.
On July 1, Hoban launched a Kickstarter campaign to help her raise the rest of the money she needs to get her mobile kitchen on the road. She's asking for $10,000, even though she acknowledges the build-out will take much more than that. She's hoping a conservative goal will allow her to surpass the $10,000, ensuring that she receives all of the money that's been pledged.
Should all go according to plan, Hoban is hoping to get the truck on the street by mid-August. She's not sure exactly where she'll be headed with the truck after that, but she's already made contact with local food truck parks and healthful businesses to secure a space for the truck.
"I probably won't be in Midtown at 3 in the morning, though," she says. "I just don't see the frat guys wanting kale salad."
Fortunately, many other people in town do. Hoban's pop-up and catering business have already achieved success, and with the help of Houstonians, she hopes the food truck will as well.
"I think the more vegan businesses out there, the better, just to open people's minds," she says. "Houston catches up to other cities eventually. Keep an eye out for me!"
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