Tastemakers 2019: Cara, Nicole, Krista and Carla Woodhouse, Owners of Woodhouse Vegan

Erin Edwards
eedwards@columbusmonthly.com
From left, Nicole, Cara and Krista Woodhouse (not pictured: Carla Woodhouse)

Run by three sisters and their mother, Woodhouse Vegan’s pop-up has been lighting up Oddfellows Liquor Bar on Mondays and Tuesdays with its 100-percent vegan menu of comfort foods.

Why They’re Tastemakers: Woodhouse Vegan’s reality for the last two years sounds like a Top Chef challenge: cook a 100-percent vegan meal for a bar full of patrons out of a tiny kitchen with dicey electricity. Oh, and you’ll need to draw customers without a traditional website. Woodhouse Vegan is doing just that, all while reaching an audience beyond the vegan community through its ever-changing menu of accessible comfort foods and savvy use of social media. This summer, Cara, Nicole, Krista and their mother, Carla, are set to open Woodhouse Vegan Café in an old brick house at the corner of Fourth Street and First Avenue in Italian Village. The menu will feature their core items, like nachos, grilled cheese sandwiches and Caesar salads, along with rotating specials and a full bar.

From Home Meals to Oddfellows: “It all started with Cara,” Krista says. “She started doing meal prep for people who were interested in having easy access to healthy food, something that was home-cooked.” Cara had about a dozen clients, most of whom were not vegans, but she was uncompromising, offering them vegan soups, salads and entrées. It started to grow naturally into a catering business. Cara’s sisters were living in Florida at the time, and they moved back to help run the company. Having watched Hai Poke launch its concept at Oddfellows (Cara and Nicole both worked at the Short North bar when it opened, and Nicole continues to bartend there), the family shifted to the pop-up idea. “I think probably half the people that come to our pop-up are not even vegetarian, much less vegan. They just come because they like the food,” Nicole says. “We feel like for so many years the word vegan was almost a dirty word. … Veganism is not a scary thing.”

Shifting Traditions: Woodhouse Vegan’s focus on comfort food staples provides a different take on plant-based cuisine than, say, newcomer Comune [see Page 60]. It’s the kind of food that is wrapped up in memories of their childhood, which they describe as very meat-and-potatoes. All three sisters and their mother are now vegan. Cara started making the shift to veganism in college and fully committed to the lifestyle seven years ago. Carla, who was both supportive and skeptical of Cara’s decision almost 20 years ago, decided to go vegan at the age of 56. “I feel like the hardest reason to make that shift is because of the attachments that you have to the food that you think you’re going to miss,” Cara says. “The traditions,” Krista interjects.

Liquid Gold: With comfort food comes cheese. Making their own vegan cheese is one of the most labor-intensive things that they do, Nicole says. It takes about five hours to make one day’s batch of their signature nacho cheese, which is nut-free, gluten-free and soy-free (Krista and Cara both have soy allergies), relying on potatoes and carrots to do the heavy lifting. “We work really hard on understanding the people who have those needs,” Cara says. They use a similar mixture for their best-selling mac ’n’ cheese, adding a cashew base for texture. “The cheese is like liquid gold,” she says.

Social Creatures:Woodhouse Vegan’s social media game—largely Cara’s doing—is strong. It’s a big reason why Woodhouse has quickly grown from about $50 in sales during its early pop-ups to selling out. “It is our main form of communication with the community. I interact with almost everyone that sends us a message,” Cara says, explaining that she fields gluten-free requests and questions about their specials and where else to grab a vegan meal in the city. She’s become a go-to resource and even keeps handy a long list of Columbus’ best plant-based options—from bakeries to high-end restaurants. “We really are such a supportive community,” Nicole says. “There are a lot of other vegan or vegetarian places popping up, and we all support one another because we are all striving to do the same thing … fighting to change the world.”

Carla Woodhouse

Age: 63

Hometown(s): Columbus and Naples

Previous gigs: VP of worldwide product development for a software company

Go-to Columbus spot: Strongwater Food & Spirits

Cara Woodhouse

Age: 37

Hometown: Fairport, New York

Previous gigs: Oddfellows Liquor Bar; Corso Ventures

Dream last meal: “Vegan mashed potatoes. Extra butter.”

Nicole Woodhouse

Age: 33 

Hometown: Hilliard

Previous gigs: Late Night Slice; Hofbräuhaus

Recommended reading: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Go-to Columbus spot: Seventh Son Brewing Co.

Krista Woodhouse 

Age: 25

Hometown: Columbus

Previous gigs: Philco Bar + Diner; Bodega

Recommended reading: “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer

Go-to Columbus spot: Service Bar

@woodvhouse on Instagram

Cara, Nicole, Krista and Carla Woodhouse