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Vegetarian venture starts up

Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet, a frozen food startup, started production in March at the former Pizza Hut building, 1222 Seventh Ave., Two Harbors. The building had sat empty since Pizza Hut closed in 2014. (Jamey Malcomb/Lake County News-Chronicle)1 / 2
A Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet's barbecue meatball meal. The business has started a production facility in Two Harbors. (File photo2 / 2

A vegetarian frozen food business started production in Two Harbors in March.

The company, Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet, had planned on starting production last summer, but "a variety of different scenarios" forced them to delay their plans, according to Vice President Justin Bacon.

"In any startup scenario, there's a variety of circumstances relative to distribution, procurement, in-house, et cetera," Bacon said. "And those just didn't line up as quickly as we had hoped."

Throughout March, however, Bacon has been training and preparing the six staff.

For now, the company is focused on producing food for cafeterias at schools, hospitals and other facilities, but Bacon hopes to sell Ruth's products at grocery stores soon.

"We're still looking at it as, it's going to be a viable, long-term opportunity within the community, but right now, we are trying to make sure we establish a really clear, consistent, strong base," Bacon said.

The old Pizza Hut at 1211 Seventh Ave., which has sat empty since the restaurant closed in 2014, will serve as the company's production facility.

Bacon worked on the incubation phase of the company from a test kitchen in Superior.

The company's website, ruthsgourmet.com, lists four flavors of "meatless balls": hearty italian marinara, jalapeno mustard, smokey barbecue and savory.

Bacon told the News-Chronicle in April 2017 that he decided he wanted to be a vegetarian at age 8 based on the men in his family suffering from health problems related to a poor diet.

After his uncle's decision to try a vegetarian lifestyle, his grandmother began to experiment with vegetarian cooking and developing recipes. Over the years, the Bacon family began to hone a few versions of meatless recipes. Visitors to their home would often try an Italian or barbecue meatball and be astounded that there was no actual meat.

After deciding to take the plunge on a frozen vegetarian food venture, the family started testing recipes and production strategies that met food industry regulations and the high standards they wanted their products to achieve.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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