“I knew I had something when I won my mom over,” Courtney Lindsay smiles as he leans back in his chair. “When she was convinced it was good, I knew we were headed in the right direction.”
Lindsay is the owner and founder of Houston Sauce Co., a vegan food collective that has expanded from a BBQ pit to a food truck, an additional BBQ pit, and a brick & mortar at the corner of Wayside and Griggs called The Shoppette. In his office at the back of the Shoppette, sitting among stacks of papers, model buildings, blueprints and merchandise, Lindsay speaks about the future of Houston Sauce Co.
“Ultimately I want to become a vegan hospitality company. We’re working on Sauce Co. creamery to create vegan ice cream. We have a project called The Green Zone that’s an outdoor market for vegan food trucks and vending real soon. We’re even collaborating with a company right now to create vegan tamales that will incorporate all our flavors. Our goal is to just keep trying to push the envelope and offer more products for our people. We want to be able to provide a host of vegan products and companies so people that have chosen not to eat meat don’t have to second guess the product ingredients. I want to be involved with new products and new concepts in the vegan world.”
The vegan world has expanded dramatically in the United States over the last 25 years. Tofurkey might have been a sitcom joke in the '90s but its popularity has steadily expanded along with new players in the plant-based market like Morning Star, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat. You can now find plant-based foods placed prominently in grocery stores, the featured item of new restaurants, and as an option for almost every fast-food combo meal. Lindsay is successfully expanding the plant-based market here in Houston and, while that success may appear to be overnight, he has been perfecting the craft for years. Lindsay often laughs at the idea of running the operation because he didn’t even start out with the goal of making vegetarian food at all.
“We started off with one hot sauce. Our original red sauce. My friend, who eventually became my partner in Houston Sauce pit, had an excess of peppers from his garden and didn’t know what to do with them. I made a pepper sauce. It was good but I wanted to perfect it, so I kept fine tuning the recipe. Every time someone came to the house, they left with a little mason jar of hot sauce. Sometimes it messed them up because it was too hot and sometimes it was too mild. It took me two years to develop the flavor, but we stumbled on something unique.”
The two years to develop the scorching hot condiment explains the name Houston Sauce Co. but it was a change in Lindsay’s health that led to the creation of a meatless menu.
“My 32nd birthday had me feeling uneasy. I felt like I had a chemical imbalance. I went to the doctor and got checked out and nothing was wrong. I started researching and found out about the raw vegan detox. Now I thought that I was in good shape when I was in the military at 25 but after I did this detox, I felt better than I have ever felt.”
Lindsay, continuing to work on hot sauces while entering the world of raw food, was also trying to start up a food service business. His first attempt was a BBQ pit. The new business clashed with his new diet and he quickly saw the need to make a choice.
“Shortly after I bought the pit, I went vegan. Now I’m a vegan with a BBQ pit,” Lindsay laughs. My wife told me to just do vegan food, but I kept saying no one wants meatless BBQ. Turns out she was right, and I was wrong. I was making a menu that was vegan, but with meat options. The problem was every night I was selling out of vegan options and coming back with leftover meat. One day I just decided to go completely vegan and we never looked back. The community really responded to the menu and really came out to support the movement.”
With that support came more profit and with that profit Lindsay was able to purchase a larger food truck. There he decided to create a menu that was still vegan but specialized in a mix of cultures. From Boudin Empanadas to their “Chick’n Sammich” to egg rolls, Lindsay tried to create a menu that appealed to a number of people and cultures in Houston.
“Today there’s a different type of vegan. We’re not making salad. I wouldn’t even say were making health food. We’re making a cultural blend of cuisines that are related to Houston that happen to not have meat. Houston has the southern, Asian, Creole, Cajun, Latino, and southern communities and we try to touch all of it because I love all that food.”
The community is responding. There are lines at the BBQ Pit trucks, usually found in the Heights and on Almeda near the Turkey Leg Hut. The Food Truck can be found at various locations in the city and the Shoppette stays stocked with vegan and vegetarian offerings from the local community and abroad. Even with all that success there was one group that Lindsay wanted to impress with his cuisine.
“My wife and immediate household were good with all of the vegan food but then I had to run it past my mom and the rest of the family. We would get together for holidays and everyone would bring food. At first, my family didn’t want to try anything vegan. Traditionally a lot of our food is cooked with meat. But I’m a chef, so I just kept making it, making sure it looked good, and eventually I won them over. I won my mom over. Now she might not go fully vegan, but she has really been working on cooking food without meat. I’ve even got her to do a couple of detox challenges with me.”
With his family convinced, Lindsay wants to continue spreading vegan and vegetarianism in the Houston community. The ability to serve food to a city that has supported him and his brand during a pandemic is especially important to him.
“I would like to thank everyone that has taken the time out to come out and support during these times. We have a niche market that is expanding, and we really feel the support from the city. Everyone is staying inside and protecting themselves, but a lot of our customers want to experience something they can’t just make at home. I am thankful they are continuing to choose Houston Sauce Co.”
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