Morels Cafe will be located at 619 Baxter Ave. | Photo by Rachel Firkins

The evolution of vegan offerings from Stanley Chase — the owner of the Louisville Vegan Jerky Company — is about to reach its next stage. Last week, the 34-year-old entrepreneur and passionate vegan signed the lease on the space at 619 Baxter Ave., which formerly housed For Goodness Crepes.

Chase plans to open a vegan cafe and deli, as well as a brick and mortar for his successful vegan jerky product this spring. Insiders may remember Chase’s business started as a food truck named Morels, just when the food truck explosion was coming to Louisville.

Stanley Chase | Photo by Meagan Jordan

Chase had actually come up with that name while daydreaming at another job.

“Before I started the food truck, I was working in a restaurant. I designed a menu, a logo and an aesthetic of a restaurant called Morels,” says Chase. At the time, it was an idle doodle on a pad of paper.

When Chase started his food truck, the name stuck.

Changes in local laws governing food truck ownership made it necessary for food truck operators to have a commissary for food prep, and Chase began cooking out of the kitchen at the Clifton Center. He used the extra time to start making vegan wraps, which were sold in Heine Brothers locations.

Eventually, the wraps became successful enough that he phased out the truck, focusing on his wholesale business. The wraps eventually gave way to the even more lucrative vegan jerky, and the Morels name was dropped in favor of Louisville Vegan Jerky Company. Now, Chase’s jerky can be found all over the country.

The idea for the cafe came up again because of frequent requests from fans who wanted to stop by the store. Problem was, there wasn’t a store.

“We get emails every week asking where our storefront is. You know, ‘We’re traveling through Louisville, we want to stop and pick up some jerky,’” says Chase, who is always forced to point those would-be customers to other businesses, like Whole Foods or Rainbow Blossom, both of which carry his product.

The Louisville Vegan Jerky Company is located out on Industrial Parkway, and it’s a production facility only, not the ideal place for guests.

“That’s where the conversation started,” says Chase. “What if we had a storefront? Once I get an idea in my head, I can’t stop thinking about it, and obsessing about it, and writing stuff out, and drawing it, and planning it.”

The idea of the storefront combined with the old idea of the brick-and-mortar Morels as well as Chase’s own desire for a certain kind of vegan food he says can’t be found in Louisville.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m really kinda bummed out when I look at the vegan and vegetarian food in Louisville,” he says, mentioning his travels and the vegan food he’s found in other cities. “You’re getting stuff like ribs. I remember this one shop we saw with french fries covered in nacho cheese and, like, grilled steak — and it was all vegan.”

Chase is right. Restaurants like The Chicago Diner and Modern Love in Omaha, Neb., are filled with the kind of indulgent vegan comfort foods that are completely missing form the scene in Louisville.

Chase says it’s due in part to a blind spot when it comes to alternate proteins. With the success of his jerky, Chase has come into contact with the latest and greatest in the world of vegan food. He’s a member of the Plant Based Foods Association with the likes of Tofurky, Beyond Meat and Miyoko’s Kitchen.

Those contacts will help Chase bring all those foods to Louisville and use them in his cafe.

“We’re gonna have deli cases where you tell us you want a pound of buffalo chicken dip, or a pound of chicken salad, and we reach in scoop it for you,” he says. “We’re also gonna have all this Miyoko cheese — it’s cashew-based cheese — but it’s actually fermented and funky, and it’s gonna blow people’s tops off.”

The deli side of things also will feature grab-and-go foods, including the return of some old favorites.

“We’re gonna have all our wraps — the Philly cheese steak, the buffalo chicken ranch — all that stuff is gonna be in the case,” says Chase.

The menu will stay small and change frequently. While you can always expect a vegan charcuterie board, a rice bowl with veggies and proteins, and a thick hoagie-style sandwich, the ingredients for those items will change periodically.

“I wanna feature something Beyond Meat is making, I wanna feature something Tofurky is making, I wanna feature something Miyoko is making. These are people who are putting all their energy into one thing and doing it really, really well,” he says.

The Louisville Vegan Jerky Company | Photo by Meagan Jordan

Featuring those foods will help keep the menu affordable.

“I’m gonna keep the prices down by not having this house-made seitan that we slaved over for like 20 hours,” he adds. “We’re just buying it direct on a price we can negotiate.”

Other menu items are still being tested, but you’ll certainly see a sandwich Chase calls “The Farby’s Beef and Cheddar.” He’s flashed several pictures of it on his social media and says it a favorite with the staff at Louisville Vegan Jerky.

“I’m gonna to eat one for dinner, to be honest,” says Chase as the interview concluded.

You also can expect Vegan Jerky Company merchandise and special in-store-only jerky flavors to be offered on site. Chase hopes to open Morels by late March or early April.

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Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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