Adam Finley and his girlfriend, Samantha Sievens, were lying in bed one morning when they resolved to start a business together. Sick of their day jobs, they decided to try their luck at bringing the vegan meat products Adam had been developing to market. That was a year ago and the success their business, The Zen Butcher Company, has experienced over such a short time is the stuff that every entrepreneur dreams about.
Two years before that fateful morning, Adam made the decision to go vegan after health problems forced him to reconsider his lifestyle. “I was eating six to seven meals of meat per day until it started ruining my insides,” he tells me. Built like a linebacker, the former Navy Corpsman doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of someone adhering to a strict plant-based diet. But one look is all it takes to confirm that he’s clearly discovered a means of satisfying his requirements.
Becoming vegan can be difficult enough as it is, but Adam was able to quit animal products cold turkey without so much as a guide to help him transition into his new lifestyle. Instead, he did research and improvised ways to take care of his nutritional needs in a way that would keep him off the meat and dairy for good. “It was a mental test for sure and I think I passed,” he laughs. “It was tough, but all it took was willpower.”
Despite possessing but a passing knowledge of how to cook, Adam began experimenting with a wheat gluten-based product called seitan to satisfy his craving for meat. He found a basic recipe and tweaked it ingredient by ingredient until he’d gotten the flavor and texture just right. They tested the recipes on friends and before long, they had a product worth selling.
At first, it was all hustle. The couple would come home from their jobs just to put in another full day working on the business—Adam on the production side, Samantha handling the marketing and administrative duties. That was until Adam suffered a hernia from his job as a FedEx delivery driver and decided to commit himself completely to building the business. “I realized we had to put the pedal to the metal to be able to go full time with it,” he recalls.
Now a staple at the Riverside Arts Market and on the menus of more than 20 restaurants in the area, theirs is the rare entrepreneurial story that knows success right out the gate. Adam’s military discipline and impeccable work ethic has a lot to do with it, as does the couple’s shared passion for promoting a plant-based lifestyle to anyone who’s willing to give it a try. “We don’t cater to vegans, we cater to anyone who wants to be conscious of what they’re eating,” they often explain to people.
The future looks bright for the young couple and their business. Once their new packaging arrives, you’ll be able to find their ground chorizo and roast beef deli slices in all three Native Sun locations and Grassroots in Riverside. They’re currently looking for a semi-permanent space to grow into over the next five to ten years that will allow them to expand into Gainesville and St. Augustine and to ultimately go national with the product.
With all that projected growth on the horizon, I asked Adam if he had a vision of what success looks like.
“Waking up knowing that you’re living the life you want to live and not regretting what you’re doing everyday,” he said. “Just… living.” To hear him describe it, it seems like they may already have found it.