GW Chew, aka Chef Chew, was adopted at birth into the loving Chew family. From a young age, he was frequently exposed to the pedestal that food occupies in ones’ culture. However, it wasn’t long before he made the crucial connection between diet and the health outcomes of his people. Since then, he knew he was destined for something bigger…..something BETTER!
Chef Chew believes that his purpose is to give the community “Something Better to Chew On!” To achieve that, he launched his plant-based food company—Something Better Foods Inc., which is quickly gaining recognition among celebrities, renowned restaurateurs, and the everyday folk alike.
He graciously sat down with VEGWORLD and chatted with us about his marvelous mission for a better future for all!
VW: You’ve had a unique, fascinating upbringing! How did your childhood story inspire your culinary ventures?
CC: My father was a sharecropper and grew up in a community where access to nourishing fruits and vegetables was a luxury for the privileged. His family’s immediate necessity was anything that could sustain mere survival. That translated to a highly meat-heavy diet. My mother’s side, however, were Seventh Day Adventists, who are known for following a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle. As a result, I experienced distinct food cultures of both worlds—meat-ladened “soul food” barbecues on my dad’s side and plenty of vegetables and Morning Star veggie grillers on mom’s side. Soon, I realized my culture’s inherent creativity and mastery of flavors that would elevate unpalatable animal meat or bland vegetables into a delicious meal. I feel fortunate to have had that exposure, which further helped me with my plant-based experiments in the kitchen!
VW: Were there a series of events that planted the vegan seeds that have guided you to your purpose?
CC: From a young age I witnessed members of my family who before the age of 55, succumbed to a plethora of diseases—heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer—the big killers known to plague the Black community. As an impressionable teen, I understood that lifestyle and diet were integral to the health outcomes of my family. Even though my health was not affected at the time, seeing the health of my family members deteriorate was a wake-up call. There had to be a better way to live! That along with the spiritual influence from the Seventh Day Adventist Church motivated me to gradually eliminate animal products and eventually adopt a vegan lifestyle. The revelatory experience aligned me with my purpose on Earth—to show people a better, healthier, and equally delicious way to live.
With a newly ignited passion and fueled by plants, Chef Chew’s entrepreneurial spirit ranged from selling thousands of copies of his vegan cookbook (door to door may we add), to a successful venture in a vegan bread and granola service. What followed was his ultimate mission to make chicken that looks, tastes, and feels like chicken, but isn’t chicken.
VW: What motivated you to create your plant-based food empire?
CC: I went vegan as an 18 year-old back in 2001 when vegans were probably akin to aliens. Most of the animal meat replacements contained dairy and eggs so they weren’t satisfying my cravings for my childhood comfort foods. The grillers were fine but they were by no means my mother’s fried chicken! I began reading old-school “total vegetarian” cookbooks, and gradually taught myself how to cook vegan. I was enthralled by the process and spent endless time breaking down the science of vegan cooking, developing my own cashew cheeses, recreating the satisfying texture of meats, and powering through multiple trial-and-error experiments! Through the process, I was being exposed to an abundance of plant foods I’d never heard of. As a creative person in the kitchen, there’s nothing more exciting than discovering the wonders I could pull off with the novelties I was learning about. Beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, root vegetables—they were all put to the test to satisfy the most perfect “chew.” I can personally attest to the saying it takes over 10,000 hours to master something—the proof is in the Better Chew line of products! The texture of our meats is spot on, which I believe sets us apart.
Self-taught home chef GW Chew offered himself a promotion to restaurateur Chef Chew! He opened a vegan restaurant called Eating to Live in his not-so-vegan hometown in Southern Maryland, which was also a buzzing seafood hub. His next eatery—Something Better Foods, which later evolved into a manufacturing business, was perfectly situated in Arkansas right by Tyson Foods’ headquarters. Now THAT is a plant-powered move! Next stop, Oakland, California! He started what became a local favorite—The Veg Hub. After four and a half fruitful years, Chef Chew decided to focus solely on scaling manufacturing and distribution.
My restaurants were my R&D labs and the community became my loyal taste testers as I perfected my plant-based meat formulation. I must credit this community-centric business model for the massive strides that Something Better Foods Inc. is making.Chef Chew
VW: From your perspective, what do you feel is the most effective approach to plant-based advocacy to Black/African-American communities?
CC: Education is key! Sure, providing access to these foods is crucial but without the education piece, we can’t expect behavior change. I began to develop my foundational model centered on educating the community. We would host vegan cooking classes at my restaurants, organize health seminars, and screenings of animal rights videos for the community! It was a collective educational approach showing people how their food is being made and offering a healthier, ethical upgrade.
Health disparities disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities. Plant-based advocates and activists must recognize that. It’s hard to care about Animal Liberation when one doesn’t even know when and where their next meal is coming from. But once you show them a better, affordable, and accessible way, that can serve as an entry to care for other social issues.
VW: Tackling issues of accessibility to healthy foods is clearly of importance to you. How are you feeling called to participate in the solution?
CC: This is most definitely an important issue that I want to address personally and through my company. After educating the masses, we have to ensure that they can access these products. I began to do my research into communities living in “Food Deserts,” which are areas that lack access to affordable, nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains—all that good stuff we are advocating for everyone to eat. But minority communities living by liquor stores, bodegas, and fast-food restaurants don’t have that “luxury.” I wanted to create a literal “life-saving” product—for people, animals, and the environment. This meant educating and serving communities who eat the most animal products—often those living in Food Deserts.
Adding to that, I also wanted our products on the shelves to represent people who look like me. We are a pioneering Black Vegan manufacturing business creating jobs, offering affordable housing, and enhancing minority representation in this space. When minority groups see themselves in the making of the products we create, it helps gain their trust. They are more likely to feel like this lifestyle is for them.
Chef Chew hosts pop-ups and partners with organizations throughout the country to arrange educational events catering to communities in Food Deserts. The team is developing a small-scale food co-op community outreach model, which can facilitate more intimate, effective engagement with locals. His solution-based approach to our disparate food system focuses on democratizing access to healthy plant foods. He is committed to flipping the narrative where large corporations dictate the well-being of minority communities. Rather, he envisions an equitable food system wherein underrepresented communities are afforded ownership in the plant-based food sector. He also serves on the board of the Plant Based Food Association, where he works on policies that will enable the burgeoning plant-based industries to thrive.
VW: When will the entire country get their hands on your game-changing products?
CC: At the moment you can find us at small health food stores in California and as of 2019, we expanded to over 50 Whole Foods stores in the Northern California region. We recently launched our e-commerce Business-to-Consumer platform on the West Coast and are hoping to make our way to a nationwide presence soon! In the meantime, some of our Better Chew favorites are available on GTFO it’s Vegan.
VW: Now for a real tough one! What’s your favorite vegan restaurant and vegan product apart from Better Chew’s line?
CC: Gosh! This IS a hard question! There are so many brilliant restaurants out there but if I HAD to pick just one, it would hands-down be my buddy’s place—Vegan Mob. It’s one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area. He gets bonus points as he also features Better Chew’s products in his dishes. No bias there right?!
My pick for my favorite product is the new Beyond Burgers. I think they’ve knocked it out of the park with the new formulation. Taste and texture are all spot on! I also want to give a shout-out to my favorite brand in the business—Tofurky. They have been around since the beginning and were instrumental in revolutionizing the “dark ages” of plant-based meats with their delicious products. I’ve always admired their uncompromising, mission-driven business model.
VW: While we’re on the topic of delicious food, what would you serve to a vegan skeptic to get them aboard the plant-powered train?
CC: Not to toot my own horn but I do a mean Jalapeño Ranch Philly Cheesesteak with the Better Chew’s Shredded Steaks. It’s cheesy, meaty, melty, with a hearty dose of spicy creaminess. Who wouldn’t WANT to go vegan after that?! In my opinion, there’s nothing quite like that sandwich!
VW: Now THAT sounds like an instant veganizer! To wrap up on that optimistic note, what’s next on your company’s noble agenda to save the planet?
CC: We have so many exciting things on the horizon! Currently, the team is gearing up to launch the Better Chew Box. It’s the plant-based protein solution delivered straight to your doorsteps! We will feature all of our best “Chews” like chicken nuggets, shredded steaks, fried fish, and plenty more delights.
I’m also really stoked about the Ethnic Boxes we have in the works. The meal-kit will celebrate cuisines of the world, from Soul food to Indian curries. All you have to do is reheat and eat! High-quality taste and nutrition are guaranteed. We will launch this initiative with our Soul Box, which includes Fried Chicken, BBQ Ribs, Mac and Cheese, and Collard Greens. I cannot overstate how amazing our new and improved Fried Chicken is! It’s my favorite product among our line and took me back to my childhood days. That’s when I knew we had nailed it and I hope the community agrees!
I think we speak for everyone when we say that the country (and perhaps the world) is READY for a scrumptious taste of the next plant-powered protein sensation—courtesy of Better Chew!plant-based plant based tofurky meat chicken fish eggs seafood beef cheese burgers protein