Ontario's first vegan food truck hits Hamilton streets
Chase and Cindy Thomson were driving their new green food truck down the QEW to Niagara-on-the-Lake for their first ever event.
Chase, who normally never speeds, barrels down the highway to make it in time, and notices the gauge inching higher and higher.
"Boom!" he said, recounting their story, complete with sound effects.
The coolant goes flying through the cab, smoke and green goo everywhere.
The married Hamilton couple use big arm gestures, talk over each other and laugh as they explain their foray into food trucking. The Thomsons are the new owners of Karma ChaMEALeon Veggie Culture Club, Ontario's first vegan food truck.
They thought they were finished before they ever started, but then came good karma.
"We were rescued by vegetarian bike riders," Cindy exclaimed.
They may have been covered in green cooling slime, but it was still a sign for the Thomsons that everything would be ok.
"That feels like so long ago," Chase said as he turned to his wife.
It was just a few weeks ago on May 31. The couple purchased their truck on May 10, Chase's 40th birthday, and went full speed ahead to get a license and get serving. It all happened within a month.
"Ever since we took the first step, it's worked out for us, so we feel we're moving in the right direction," Chase said.
The Thomsons have the first vegan truck in Ontario, in a pretty meaty food-truck world, so they did have their insecurities.
"Is any one going to come?" Cindy said. "But that's who we are and that's what we want to be."
Their first service with the big, green truck was a bit of a test — it was, in fact, a burger throw-down at the Upper Gage Garage last week.
"We were anxious, especially going to a burger thrown down at a garage, thinking wrongly I'm sure, everybody is stereotypically wanting a juicy burger, but a lot of people came out for us," Chase said. "I think we made a number of converts."
Hamilton Cheese Steak
Along with their signature Sunshine veggie burger, Karma was serving up a 'Hamilton Cheese Steak' (the difference? It's made with seitan, a wheat-based meat substitute and "It's served on the streets of Hamilton," Chase said).
A no-piggy pulled pork will be another staple on the Karma ChaMEALeon menu, with jack fruit replacing the pork. That's one of the clever recipes the culinary-inclined Chase found doing research and testing ingredients.
"It's used as a meat substitute in Sri Lanka," Chase said. "[The texture] is really similar to pulled pork."
The Thomsons are conscious not only of how their vegan creations taste, but how they feel on the palate.
"I understand texture is something that is missing [from vegetarian meals]," Chase said. "We try to provide that."
Cindy, the vegetarian of the couple, nods in agreement.
Despite their new business being housed in a bright, green truck, Cindy said the idea for Karma ChaMEALeon came from an "unhappy place."
"We really needed to change our lives," said Cindy, a health professional. "We thought about what makes us happy."
Cindy, who is used to facilitating meetings at work, busted out the poster paper one night and the couple brainstormed ideas for a new business. Chase loves to cook and Cindy loves working with people, and with Hamilton's bustling food truck culture, Karma ChaMEALeon fit the bill.
They both worked in the food industry during high school and university, so "it came back full-circle," Chase said.
The couple's focus on sustainability and community is leading to partnerships with various groups. The first is Oliver's Garden, a backyard garden project for charity. The Thomsons will feature a special menu item with the tomatoes grown from Oliver's Garden throughout the summer. Part of the proceeds will go back to the charity.
It's reasons like that one that makes the Thomsons are glad they became entrepreneurs in Hamilton.
"It's really inspiring that someone can open a truck here," Chase said.