A basic tenet of starting a business is to find something no one else is doing well, and do it well.
That's how Meg Swallows and her sister Ellen came up with the idea of making and selling a natural, smooth and creamy, vegan ice cream. OK, because it's vegan, it's not made with cream, so technically, it can't be called ice cream. But listen to Meg and her small group of devoted followers, and you'll be convinced it's the next best thing.
"Ellen always said that vegan food tasted, well, different from regular foods," Meg Swallows said about her sister, who ate vegan for a six-month period last year and whom Meg credits as being the inspiration for her creation. "It tasted artificial. I wanted to create a product that would taste as much like the real product as possible."
So despite not having any formal training in food science, the culinary arts, or chemistry - her major in college was journalism - and with a summer somewhat free after graduating from Ohio University, Meg and her sister set out to create the perfect no-cream ice cream. They experimented with different bases. They came out with some textures that were barely passable, and a few flavors that were a better idea than a reality. But they kept at it, and with a dedication to using only natural ingredients and lots of time and effort, eventually, Phro*ZEN was born.
The name highlights Zen, because it's a philosophy both sisters subscribe to - living in harmony with your community and your world. People can eat the product, the sisters say, and "feel at peace knowing that no animal products are used."
Still, the food preparation "was a whole lot of guessing, and a whole lot of research, and a whole lot of frustration," said Meg, who is neither vegan nor vegetarian. Ellen is a vegetarian.
They came up with a base of soy milk and natural plant thickeners, use only organic ingredients, and buy local as much as possible. The sisters rent a restaurant kitchen in Finneytown and make small batches weekly - about eights pints of three to four flavors at a time. Her sister's talent and contribution is the flavoring, and coming up with new tastes.
Among those flavors are what Meg calls "new limited edition seasonal flavors." January's is Maple Mantra (get the Zen reference?) It features maple syrup from a local Clough Valley farm, and walnuts coated in agave, chocolate, and sea salt. The product is available at the restaurant where it is made - Meals To Go on Winton Road in Finneytown - and at Park+Vine
on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.
They hope to add a line of products not only for vegans, but for people with various allergies, such as nut allergies, and other dietary considerations, such as gluten restrictions. Meg thinks they have achieved their goal of allowing those with divergent food needs and desires to eat as healthy and happy as others - at least, as far as frozen deserts go.
"I've gotten some pretty rave reviews from vegans and non-vegans alike," she said. "It's not Graeter's
, but that's not what I was going for. But I'm really proud of what we're doing."
By Paul A. Long
Source: Meg Swallows, co-founder
Photo by Rachel Rothstein