As Akron’s food scene continues to mature and the city tries to remake itself as a friendly space for entrepreneurs, one inspiring businessman is attempting to capitalize on local programs to introduce Akronites to a more conscientious and environmentally friendly way of eating.
Scott Roger is the owner, producer and self-described “maniac” behind Picked Proteins, which creates locally produced meat alternatives for those attempting to have a more “plant-based” diet.
“I feel the hesitation to plant-based diets is that you are just going to eat salad for three meals a day,” Scott says, “and that is not at all true.”
Growing up in a largely vegetarian household, Scott has been fully vegan for almost eight years, but has never felt like this approach to eating was overly restrictive. He insists that at the end of the day, his plate looks very similar to everyone else’s.
In fact, it was a love for pizza that started him on the journey that would lead to Picked Proteins. “When I went vegan, I still wanted to have pizza. I worked in a pizzeria for seven years,” Scott says, laughing. “I have eaten a lot of pizza in my time.”
Early in his vegan transition, he was experimenting with mass-produced meat alternatives but found them lacking when it came to flavor and texture. For the quality he was receiving, and the price he was paying for big brands, he thought, “I can make this stuff at home.”
As an avid home cook, Scott began exploring recipes and learning about the process behind making meat alternatives like seitan, a protein source made from wheat gluten. Scott’s aim quickly moved beyond making a satisfying vegan pizza and he began experimenting with a range of flavors. “If people were coming over, I wanted to make something that is going to wow,” Scott says.
With increasingly successful batches, Scott started to cautiously explore the creation of a business to sell and distribute his products. Scott didn’t see himself as an entrepreneur. Still, he knew he wanted to find a role for himself that could “feed his soul” and leave a lasting impact on his community.
To start Picked Proteins, Scott leveraged entrepreneurial classes at Bounce Innovation Hub in Canal Place and learned the basics of operating a business. “I was able to crystalize a lot of research I had and understand what needed to do.”
Through Bounce, Scott says he gained advice and connections to get Picked Proteins operating. Utilizing another local entrepreneurial resource, Scott began working out of Akron Food Works, a shared-use kitchen in Middlebury neighborhood designed to aid those starting food businesses.
Editor’s note: Ken Evans, the author of this piece, is an AmeriCorps VISTA at The Well CDC, which also operates Akron Food Works. Ken does not work with Akron Food Works. Picked Proteins uses the Akron Food Works space but has no other relationship with The Well.
Opened in May 2020, Picked Proteins offers products ranging from pepperoni seitan to coconut “smoky bac’n” to “chick’n” shreds. Scott attempts to limit processing when it comes to his products and primarily uses only salt and vinegar as preservatives. He also tries to avoid common allergens, with the exception of gluten.
Currently, he is selling packaged products at Birch Cafe in Highland Heights, Local Roots in Wooster, and Ms. Julie’s Kitchen here in Akron. He also sells directly to local eateries like Nomz, Upper Crust Pizza, HiHo Brewing Co. and Ms. Julie’s Kitchen.
Scott emphasized that he enjoys working on a local level, helping restaurants achieve particular flavor profiles and get the product they want.
For Scott, Picked Proteins is not about evangelizing the vegan movement but giving people more options when it comes to food. Instead, it’s about making a product that people can feel good about adding to their weekly meals.
“If food is comfort, then to make someone feel comfortable trying a plant-based diet, the easiest, and best way to do it, is to offer a product that mimics what they are used to,” Scott says.
As one of few small-scale producers making meat alternatives, Scott wants to keep a local focus. He wants people who buy his products to know him and what he stands for.
For the future, Scott is focused on developing direct shipping to customers, selling at local farmers markets, and expanding his product line to include new products like breakfast sausages and a bacon alternative. He hopes to make Picked Proteins full-time job if it proves successful.
Most importantly, though, Scott wants to ensure that Picked Proteins is not a luxury product. He is currently seeking WIC approval for his products and is working with the Junior League of Akron about possibly supplying some healthy snacks in school lunches.
Scott knows the eye-rolls that vegans and vegan products can get. Nevertheless, he is confident that his products deliver something everyone can enjoy. Knowing that his business gives Akronites more options particularly at a time when we are all being asked to think complexly about the food we eat. Offering not just flavorful alternatives to meat, but something as he put it, “that is going to make you feel better, be better for the environment, and be better for animals.”
Ken Evans finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.
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