Time to make the seitan, Upton's expands its reach | Bleader

Time to make the seitan, Upton's expands its reach

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I had to pester a good number of locals during the assembly of last November's collaborative guide to vegan and vegetarian Chicago. One of the issue's most helpful participants was Daniel Staackmann, the main man at seitan makers Upton's Naturals. As well as answering a litany of veg-based questions, he spilled about his favorite veg dish at a non-vegetarian restaurant and let us take photos of the inside of his fridge, which had to have been a little bizarre, I'm sure. He was a good sport about it all—we figured it wasn't terribly far-fetched to crown him the seitan king of Chicago.

Once the issue dropped, I talked with Dan a few times about visiting the Upton's headquarters, both to find out what's down the line for Upton's and to check out the company's newish facility—in mid-September, Upton's moved into the city limits from its original home in Skokie. My visit was unfortunately delayed because, among other things, the building needed some fine-tuning, the holidays happened, and I became much too concerned with football. But earlier this week, I finally trekked over to West Town to check out the digs. I'm carless, so I somehow duped Reader photo editor Andrea Bauer into driving me and even snapping a couple of photos during our visit.

Though Upton's is primarily known for its packaged seitan, they've been hawking sandwiches more recently and just finalized a deal with Whole Foods to expand their sandwich distribution further into the supermarket chain's midwest region—they're already in every Whole Foods store in Chicago, plus one in Evanston and one in River Forest. Staackmann told me that Upton's also hopes to expand its distribution to independent local stores other than Green Grocer and Foodsmart but doesn't have the means to do so right now. It's a small operation without the time or manpower to cart sandwiches all over Chicago, though it does use Chicago Cargo for some deliveries. Whole Foods, of course, is a behemoth and has its own distribution system, benefiting both parties in the long run. Say what you want about "Whole Paycheck," but the mega company is helping support a small local business that occupies the relatively uninhabited land of specialty seitan products.

Furthermore, Dan told me that though the company just recently moved into its current West Town location, it soon hopes to begin building its own facility nearby on a recently purchased plot of land. More details to come on that.

And now here are some photos, because Andrea had a camera:

The walk-in's seitan pile, a beautiful thing

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Piecing together the chicken seitan focaccia

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Sandwiches, realized

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Nicole Sopko and Daniel Staackmann hanging in the house that seitan built

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