Seth Tibbott is the founder of Turtle Island Foods, the company which created ‘Tofurky’. A product that’s been covered with intrigue by the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and now VegBelly.com. Ready to learn more? Great! Pre-heat that oven, sit back and let’s learn about Seth and everyone’s favorite “Holiday Stuffed Roast.”
So how did you come up with the name Tofurky? Was there a second name in the running?
Tofurky, or actually “Tofurkey” was a word invented in the late 1970′s to describe turkey flavored tofu of various kinds. When I first started delivering tempeh to 8 local natural foods stores in Portland, in 1980, there was a “Tofurkey Sandwich” that I used to eat for lunch made by a small portland company. They stopped making it around 1982. I always liked the name and since no one had trademarked it, we dropped the “e” and trademarked the name Tofurky in 1996. There was some opposition from others involved in the process who thought it was “too silly”. “Holiday Stuffed Roast” was one of the other boring alternatives suggested. I had been in business for 15 years at the time and there wasn’t anything fun about our marketing though I personally loved to have fun. So I thought, “let’s have some fun and be more who we really are and see what happens.”
You got started in 1995. How much has the Tofurky changed since then?
The first Tofurky recipe can still be found on the internet. You basically mash up and season tofu, put it into a colander lined with cheesecloth, carve out a hole in the middle and add stuffing, turn over on a pie pan, baste and bake. Super labor intensive but good as long as you ate it right when it came out of the oven. Did not freeze well. The current recipe is a combo of seitan and tofu and we have been using it since 1998, refining it slightly to improve taste and texture but basically is unchanged since 1998.
Any crazy marketing ideas? It feels like you can have some fun with a product like Tofurky.
We want a Tofurky balloon in the Macy’s day thanksgiving parade. We think that would be fun. We also want to run a series of Tofurky Trots on Thanksgiving each year in towns across America to raise some money for some good causes. We had the first one this past year in Portland, OR and it was a blast. Fun is an important way that we connect with our fans and customers and it is who we really are. It’s important as we grow to remember to still have fun and not let the pressures of business get to us.
We want a Tofurky balloon in the Macy’s day thanksgiving parade. We think that would be fun.
Your company Turtle Island Foods makes more than just Tofurky, what’s your best seller?
We have 22 Tofurky items now and 7 tempeh items. Tofurky Italian Sausages are our number one best seller followed by hickory smoked deli slices.
Have you ever been in a grocery store and witnessed someone buying or maybe staring puzzlingly at a Tofurky? Do you approach customers in the store?
Yes. It’s pretty cool to step down from the ivory tower of Tofurkylandia and watch the retail process at work. I approached one customer last year buying a Tofurky feast in Ithica, New York. It was both interesting an a little weird so generally I just stand by and watch now.
Any other products you’d like to attempt to create one day?
No one has succeeded with steak or ham yet so those would be cool. Any food of animal origin, especially those notorious for extra brutal practices like faux gras are of particular interest but nothing is off the table.
OK, we know you make a mean Tofurky, but how are you in the kitchen?
Very average. I just cooked Tofurky ground beef sloppy joes tonight and they were excellent. Of our products, the one I enjoy cooking the most is the Tofurky roast. I like to experiment with bastes and cooking methods. I love the leftovers which seem to improve in the frig.
What’s the most common way for you to burn off all those Tofurky calories?
Racquetball, golf and ellipticals.
Favorite piece of kitchen cookware?
Toaster oven and a good seasoned cast iron skillet
Any pets around the house?
Two cats, Scarlett and Yuri.
Current album on repeat?
What are you reading right now?
How do you like your caffeine?
Soy mocha, no whip
What’s next for you?
Have been toying with the idea of a concept called “Veggielandia” which would be an upscale vegan shopping mall/museum/cooking school. A center that showcases great vegan products and ideas and interprets them to the public. It’s a high risk, out there concept which is what really gets my juices flowing.
Thank you Seth!
Learn more about Tofurky at www.Tofurky.com4