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If a Jewish deli has no animal products, can it be called a Jewish deli?
Julie Podair clearly thinks the answer to that Jewish kōan is a resounding “yes.” She’s the proprietor of Goldie’s Vegan Deli, a startup that features vegan lox made from carrots — called Goldielox, of course. Currently she sells her food at popups and to a few clients.
Podair’s story starts like so many others who work in the food industry — in other words, nowhere near it.
Raised in New Jersey and Wisconsin, after college she moved to San Francisco to work in biotech. Even though she excelled in science, she realized this cutting-edge field was not where she wanted to spend her life, and she moved on to a job in the recruiting department of a tech startup. There she learned about hiring and sales and communications, skills that later proved to be helpful for launching a food business.
In the meantime, she was spending half of her day picking out recipes to cook elaborate meals for herself and her boyfriend after she got home.
Podair, 28, has been interested in food most of her life. She was “obsessed with vegetables” and started cooking for herself as a teenager; she also became a vegetarian as a teen. (Today she is willing to taste non-vegetarian foods in service to her profession, but she still eats a mostly vegetarian diet.) In college, she threw dinner parties for friends, which sometimes meant baking 10 loaves of challah. They were devoured within minutes, Podair said.
Sometime after leaving her recruiting job, she connected with a personal chef who needed an assistant. Podair learned the ins and outs of cooking for families, and she began cooking privately for clients under the name Kismet Kitchen. She later met Sarah Waxman, founder of At the Well, an organization that facilitates Rosh Hodesh women’s circles. Waxman was organizing regular events and needed a chef.
“I grew my business at these Jewish events,” said Podair. “I had had a bat mitzvah, but this was a whole other type of Judaism that Sarah brought me into.”
Podair noticed that many of those who attended were vegan, and upon further observation, she saw that most of them were Israeli. That’s where she got the idea for the vegan specialty items.
“I started to make everything vegan because I couldn’t deal with all the Israelis requesting more vegan options,” she joked. When she served vegan lox for the first time, “people were freaking out over it. They were so happy.”
While there are those who will never use the words “vegan” and “deli” in the same sentence, the trend is growing as more people adopt plant-based diets. The Butcher’s Son, a vegan deli in Berkeley, has lines out the door every weekend. It was only a matter of time before someone in this food-obsessed region thought to veganize Jewish deli.
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Podair’s menu is compact. What stands out is her lox made from carrots, or Goldielox. While the technique has been around for several years, she experimented until she came up with her own unique recipe (other recipes for it abound on the internet).
Naysayers, hold your tongues until you try it. While very few things can mimic the mouthfeel and taste of silky lox, the carrots make for an incredible stand-in, both visually and in taste. Roasted whole in salt and then marinated for hours in a mixture that includes liquid smoke, the carrots are completely transformed in flavor and texture.
Podair also makes her own cashew-based cream cheese, pickles, tuna salad (made from hearts of palm and chickpeas), and healthy cookies that are an ode to a black and white. She also makes miso matzah ball soup and offers a celery spritz as a beverage option.
Podair sells her lox at pop-ups and other events (to find out where, follow @goldieloxsf on Instagram), and she packages it in lunchboxes for The Assembly, a women’s coworking space in the city, as well as for Uber Eats. She is always looking to spread the vegan lox love to more outlets.