One of the best parts of what we do is getting to work with creative and enterprising culinary entrepreneurs who are cooking up better choices and a more sustainable and delicious future for our community. We’ve fallen head over heels for the creamy nut milks from MALK, so we were thrilled to sit down with founder August Vega and partner Joel Canada to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their business and hear what keeps them inspired!
Tell us a little about the journey that led you to MALK.
JC: I was brought into MALK by my cousin, the founder of MALK, August Vega. August and her son have a dairy allergy, and in an attempt to create an alternative to this staple of the typical American diet, my cousin created one of the most delicious beverages I had ever tasted. When asked to man the Austin side of MALK, I happily accepted.
AV: I’ve always aspired to start a business with my family. I was born allergic to dairy and very few milk alternatives were available during my childhood. Those alternatives to milk were also not healthy and filled with fortified vitamins and ingredients too difficult to pronounce. My 6-year-old son is also lactose intolerant and I’ve realized that the poor quality of milk alternatives is the same. Today’s dairy free alternatives include GMO ingredients, binders, and fillers that are harmful to the digestive system. I began making homemade almond milk for my son and realized that there is such a huge void for natural and safe-to-consume milk alternatives. I care about honest food and knew that I had to do something about it. My brother Justin Brodnax and cousin Joel Canada provided me their full support and together we are working towards offering the best milk alternative in the market.
Tell us about MALK—what’s special about it?
JC: MALK is a plant-based milk company. We are family-owned and operated, based in Houston, Texas. MALK currently offers three flavors; Unsweet Almond, Sweet Vanilla Almond, and Maple Pecan. All flavors have five ingredients or fewer and all ingredients are organic. We use a no-heat pasteurization process to extend the shelf life of MALK, ensuring that our customers receive all of the vitamins and nutrients that Mother Nature intended. Our Maple Pecan Flavor uses Organic Pecans locally sourced from Texas Farms. It has been a pretty big hit. No one else makes pecan milk.
How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to make food for a living?
JC: I come from sales, so the food world is new to me. I have always tried to eat clean and treat my body right, but before joining the team at MALK, I had not worked inside this unique community of the food business. Being around people that have chosen to make food for a living has been eye opening. Food is important, maybe the most important thing of all things, and all the people that I have encountered in this industry thus far have been very happy people. I think it’s because when you make something that is TRULY good for everyone involved and it is a success, the sense of accomplishment is real and justified.
What does “sustainable” mean to you?
JC: “Sustainable” means many things to me. In terms of food, sustainability means feeding your body clean food in order to sustain the body’s health system. It also means only growing clean, organic food so as not to disrupt other systems, like our ecosystem.
What does a “day in the life” look like at MALK?
JC: Wow. At this point, there is no really a typical day at MALK. Being that I live in Austin and MALK is Houston-based, I am on the road a lot. We are all three involved in every aspect of MALK along with a few other invaluable employees. From producing, to delivering, to sampling at events, MALK is like a neverending job right now and I am so grateful to be a part of it.
What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?
JC: Apparently I am the chauffeur to one of the other owner’s! My cousin Justin makes me drive him everywhere when I am Houston. When I am in Houston everything is MALK-related.
What do you find most rewarding about making food?
JC: For me the look on someone’s face when they first try MALK and they really like it is the most rewarding part. Really just the interaction with our customers in general has been amazing for me. People tell me all about their allergies or stories from their childhood about gathering pecans. Sampling MALK to the public is definitely my favorite part of the job.
AV: We constantly receive emails, comments and feedback on social media from consumers thanking and complimenting us for making a healthy milk alternative they feel safe providing to their families.
What do you find most challenging?
JC: For me the most challenging part is being the MALK representative in Austin and not being able to be with my partners every day. That will change in the very near future though. I may become a dual citizen. Half Austinite, half Houstonian!
What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to make good food for a living?
JC: Like many businesses, the food business is very difficult to get into. Permitting, inspections and certifications are costly and time consuming. I think in the past the biggest obstacle was to get people to understand why your product costs a little more than some of the alternatives, but I think people are really waking up, reading labels and realizing that the quality of food that we put into our bodies is extremely important.
AV: Unfortunately a major obstacle is the high cost for producing and purchasing good quality food. We know how it can be challenging to purchase all local and organic food, so we made it a priority to provide a high-quality product that is significantly more affordable than organic nut milks in other states.
Why should we buy local?
JC: Why not? Buying local puts capital directly back into the community that you live in. Buying local supports your neighbors. Buying local means that your food did not have to travel across the country on an 18 wheeler to get to you. It’s fresher.
AV: Buying local supports the local economy as well as family-owned businesses. Texas was recently listed as the #1 worst state to shop local and it is saddening because small businesses need the support of our local communities to grow.
What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?
JC: I’ve heard that soda sales are way down. That’s great news.
AV: I am really excited about the GMO labeling movement. it may not be right around the corner, but the fact that we hear about it regularly through news outlets and legislation is a step in the right direction.
What inspires you?
JC: So many things inspire me, but If I have to sum it up, other people’s creativity is what motivates me. When I see someone else’s expression and it’s good, it puts a creative energy in me and I immediately start thinking, “what can I do or make right now”?
AV: My family.
What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?
JC: I think that buying our food from local sources as much as possible is essential to creating a stronger food system.
AV: Be a concious consumer.
What are some of your other favorite local food products?
JC: Some of my favorite local food products right now are Oh Kimchi, Wunderpilz Kombucha, and Evergreen Chia. Evergreen in Particular, because it goes great with MALK.
AV: There are so many it’s hard to pick a few. Kickn’ Kombucha has a vanilla lemongrass kombucha that I am pretty obsessed with.
What are you cooking this week?
JC: Stir-fried Brussels sprouts and carrots from Johnson’s Backyard Garden in Austin.
AV: We eat tons of fresh veggies. Probably a pasta with greens and huge salads…always.
What’s your favorite dish using seasonal produce?
AV: Anything pear.
What’s next for MALK?
JC: We’ve got two new flavors created that we will be announcing soon. One involves chocolate. I can’t give many more details.
AV: We have a new flavor reveal and more work to get our product in the hands of all that want to clean up their diet!
JC: Breakfast Tacos and a tall cold glass of Unsweet Almond MALK.
AV: Farm egg and avocado toast.
Favorite comfort food:
JC: Tomato basil Soup.
AV: Beans of any kind.
JC: Mom’s old recipes of course.
AV: Any of Jamie Oliver’s books.
Favorite winter fruit/veggie:
JC: Butternut squash.
Favorite food indulgence:
AV: I love granola and pecan MALK….it’s so yummy.