During a Starbucks pit stop on a family road trip, Halini Brune asked her husband to bring her anything vegan. Some kind of dairy-free coffee beverage and whatever plant-based snack item he could find would be fine.
"He came back with a cup of coffee with almond milk and a bag of potato chips," Brune says.
The lack of healthy, vegan options at ubiquitous chains was so disappointing that she decided to take matters into her own hands. A native of Brazil who moved to the U.S. with her husband about four and a half years ago, Brune has never been a fan of meat. As a child she fought back when her mom put beef or chicken on her plate, and she says she's just never liked the taste, the texture or the fact that it comes from an animal. Because meats are so prevalent in Brazilian cooking she learned how to eat it, but it never felt right to her.
Around the time she moved to the States, Brune drastically reduced meat from her diet, and eventually transitioned to entirely vegan. She loves experimenting with recipes at home and cooking plant-based meals for herself and her family, but finding options outside of the house was consistently challenging. Equal parts frustrated and inspired by the lackluster bag of chips, Brune began to conceptualize a store of her own.
"I came up with this idea, instead of cooking just for myself, I might be able to cook for other people," she says. "I could offer things that places are not offering right now."
Introducing Mind Your Belly Deli, an entirely plant-based bakery and deli at 201 Towne Center West Blvd. in Short Pump. The doors opened Jan. 30, and six weeks in, Brune says she's constantly experimenting with new ideas and recipes. Some items, she says, are already staples, like the Brazilian cheese rolls, featuring yucca flour, which is naturally gluten-free, and nondairy parmesan cheese. The jackfruit Philly cheesesteak with mushrooms, onions and the creamy, cashew-based cheese made by local startup UnMoo, became an instant hit, she says, along with the air-fried yucca fries, served with Sriracha vegan mayo.
On the sweet side, Brune says the corn pudding with coconut, which she named Kika, already seems to have a loyal following. Several cupcake flavors are always on display, she says, and other baked good include cinnamon rolls, brownies and cheesecake.
While much of the menu is healthy, like the new chickpea-based riff on a classic chicken salad sandwich, Brune notes that a vegan diet is not always inherently healthy.
"Eating vegan can also mean eating a lot of carbs, a lot of sugar, a lot of fat, you know," Brune says. But she goes on to note that items like her cupcakes, which contain a lot of powdered sugar, are healthier than many grocery store alternatives that are full of artificial dyes and preservatives.
Within the next couple of weeks, Brune plans to expand the menu to include weekend brunch, featuring things like tofu scrambles and biscuits. Don't expect to order a mimosa with your Saturday morning meal, though — Brune is resisting any temptation to include alcohol or sodas on her menu. Instead, drink options include coffee and espresso drinks, hot cocoa, infused waters and kombucha.
Brune doesn't consider other local operations, like the food truck Go Go Vegan Go or Sweeter Days Bakery, whose products she now carries her shops, her competitors. Instead she's looking at giants like Starbucks and Panera Bread, keeping a close eye on their prices and doing everything she can to stay in that range.
"However much Panera Bread would charge for a pastry, I don't want to charge much more than that," she says. "I don't want people to not try our food because it's so expensive."
Eventually, Brune would love to franchise her concept.
"That would be my dream come true, having this store everywhere," she says. "I would love to have a vegan bakery everywhere, so people could walk in and not worry, because they know whatever they order is quality and is made out of plants."
Mind Your Belly Deli
201 Towne Center West Blvd. No. 707
Wednesdays - Saturdays 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.