Upton’s Naturals is my favorite seitan and not just because they’re from Chicago. Upton’s is produced in a small warehouse hidden in an industrial park in Skokie, IL. They offer a wide range of flavors (chorizo, ground beef, Italian sausage, gyros, bacon & more!) to local eating establishments, as well as at select grocers AND they have “grab & go” items, like the Gyro Wrap and the Breakfast Sandwich! We recently sent Dan a few questions to find out a bit more about Upton’s and here’s what he had to say:
Upton. No, he’s not flesh & blood, but was created by us along with our friend & illustrator, John Sampson.
SCV: Upton’s has been around for 4 yrs now, tell us how the company started and how it’s changed since it’s early days.
Although it says “Since 2006” on the retail packs, we actually formed Upton’s in August of 2005 and were developing the products about a year before that in a shared kitchen. I started the company with a good friend of mine who has since gone on to pursue other interests. We’d both been vegan for 10+ years and were looking for a project to work on together involving food. We did some thinking and realized there was a hole in the seitan market, especially for restaurants, so we decided to try and fill it. Neither of us had a culinary background, so it was all trial and error. We began selling to a handful of restaurants in Chicago and about a year in to that we decided to launch the retail line. We started with 7 stores in Chicago and delivered to them ourselves…then started working with a distributor and expanded to about 20 stores in IL & WI until earlier this year when we began selling to stores throughout the Midwest and Southwest. How things have changed…the first 3 years we did everything ourselves, just the 2 of us. We’ve added an employee about every six months since then.
SCV: How come your seitan is so delicious?! We can’t get enough Upton’s Chorizo or Bacon!
We just use the most simple ingredients and try to base our flavors on traditional recipes.
SCV: Are all of your products produced in your warehouse in Skokie?
All of the seitan and ready-to-eat items are made in Skokie, but we do use a third-party to produce the tamales.
SCV: How many people does it take to keep Upton’s running these days?
5 total. Three people handle all of the production and two of us keep things running in the office.
SCV: You recently added some new sandwiches to your offerings, how do you come up with such tasty sandwiches, wraps, etc.? Are any of them based off of customer suggestions? (We’re particularly fond of the Chicken Bacon Wrap and the Breakfast Sandwich with Bacon).
We just try to put out products that we think are good. We tried soliciting ideas for new ready to eat items a few times, but didn’t get much feedback.
SCV: Is there anywhere in the city we can get your sandwiches, wraps, etc. besides Whole Foods?
The only independent store currently selling the ready to eat items is W Grocer on North Ave. The retail seitan packs & tamales are available at most of the indie shops (full list on our website). Some restaurants don’t like it when their “secret” ingredients are made public, but we occasionally Tweet about new places that are serving Upton’s.
SCV: Are there any super secret recipes in the works for new items?
No, we’re trying to focus on widening the distribution of current products over the next year or so. After that we’ll likely package a couple more varieties of seitan for retail… bacon and chicken are at the top of the list.
SCV: We own some of your shirts & buttons and all the cool kids we know want them (especially the pin collection of mustachioed men, though I’m partial to the clean shaven guy). How can they go about getting their own?
They should be available on our website soon. Also, we occasionally give them away at events, so keep an eye out!
To find out more about Upton’s, including recipe ideas, check out their website: http://www.uptonsnaturals.com/