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September 18, 2019Cart


by Fairfield County Business Journal

Norwalk physician turns entrepreneur with vegan eggplant jerky

The old axiom “you are what you eat” has a special resonance with Amy Wiesner, a Norwalk-based naturopathic physician and acupuncturist. In her professional capacity, Wiesner frequently treats patients whose medical conditions have been exacerbated by a poor diet.

“Eating is the only thing you do multiple times a day, every single day,” said Wiesner, who has been in practice for 15 years. “To continue eating unhealthy things over and over again is not good for you.”

Naturopath Amy Wiesner

Wiesner noted that while her medical practice is often based on a reactive approach to a patient’s concerns, she began experimenting with different recipes for snack foods that could ensure a more proactive strategy for better nutrition. After trial-and-error testing, Wiesner came up with Verky, an organic vegan jerky that substitutes eggplant for beef.

“It is soy free, sugar free and wheat free,” Wiesner said. “And the eggplant is raw, which means it was dehydrated for a long time at a low temperature, so it maintains its vitamins, minerals, nutrients and enzymes — they are not killed off by the high temperature cooking process. Eggplant has antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C, and it is a healthy food that helps you get your digestive system to work properly. It’s also very filling. With the water taken out, it tends to be very chewy.”

Wiesner added that traditional beef jerky carries some issues with its chief ingredient. “Beef sometimes is not organic,” she said. “Sometimes it has hormones or pesticides and the feed that is used for the cattle could have hormones and pesticides. Plus, there can be issues with the water they’re drinking and the conditions they’re in, and all of those things could create an unhealthy environment.”

Wiesner’s ingredient mix for Verky is relatively minimal: eggplant, olive oil, coconut liquid aminos, raw mesquite powder and raw agave. For a spicy version of Verky, she added cayenne pepper to heat up the taste buds. A one-ounce serving offers only 30 calories, 160 milligrams of sodium (or 7 percent of the daily value) and 2 grams of carbohydrates (or 1 percent of the daily value).

Wiesner sources her eggplants from local producers when the vegetable is in season, but relies on out-of-state supplies in the off-season months. She emphasized the use of raw agave among her ingredients.

“There are some agaves that are processed in high temperatures and those tend not to be so healthy because it is too sugary,” she said. “Mine is raw and it doesn’t have negative effects.”

Wiesner began making Verky at an incubator kitchen in Westport in April 2016 and sold her first bag four months later at Westport’s Organic Market under the corporate banner of Dr. Amy’s Organics. The products are now manufactured at the Raw Food Central facility in Berlin, Connecticut, and she has expanded into retail sales at two regional grocery chains — Fairfield County’s Garelick & Herbs and Westchester’s DeCicco & Sons — plus The Well Natural Market in Wilton and natural food retailers in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, California; e-commerce is handled via Amazon and her website.

Wiesner declined to cite her startup costs and profits to date. She is running a one-woman operation and arranges for the retail distribution of Verky by herself rather than using a third party. At the moment, Verky production and sales and her medical practice evenly divide her schedule, and she is also considering a product expansion into body care products made from organic ingredients.

As for the inspiration for becoming an entrepreneur, Wiesner said it was a do-it-yourself endeavor. “I don’t have a role model or mentor,” she said, with a laugh. “I was really just interested in healthy food and healthy lifestyle and a plant-based diet.”