Growing number hungry for sisters’ raw, vegan foods enterprise

Sisters Rose, left, and Amy Johnston.

For south Tempe sisters Amy and Rose Johnston, their business, The Green Asylum, came about as a combination of multiple factors all meshing at once.

The company, which specializes in raw and vegan foods, opened its doors last March. During this time, Amy and Rose have stayed busy catering events, teaching classes, hosting private parties, running an online store, and learning all they can about how the fusion of both raw and vegan foods can improve not only their health but the health of their customers.

“Our interest in raw and vegan foods initially started completely separately,” Amy said.

“Rose and I were living in different areas of the country, and we were both dealing with some health issues,” she said. “I had graduated as an associate chef from The Living Light Culinary Institute in Ft. Bragg, Calif., which taught me a lot about food and what it takes to make a healthy meal.

“I was looking for a change, and so I moved to Arizona first.”

Amy said it was during a phone conversation with her sister that the two of them realized they had recently, yet coincidentally, discovered a mutual interest in both raw and vegan cuisine.

“We were on the phone, and Rose told me that she wanted to try raw food,” Amy said.

Rose visited her sister in fall 2010, and they spent a few weeks together discussing their newly found mutual interest in healthier cooking and eating. They decided to combine their skills and passions for food and open their own company, focusing at first on raw foods, which are defined as unrefined, unprocessed and untreated with heat over 115 degrees.

Rose said she first became aware of the connection between food and health during a stint at McDonald’s.

“I really enjoyed working there, but I saw a lot of people who seemed to be kind of sick,” she said.

After suffering from nausea after eating a meal a couple of years back, Rose said she looked online for help and found a wealth of information about the benefits of eating raw food.

“I wanted to start eating healthier, but I also wanted to share that with others to help them feel better, too, so I talked to Amy about it, and we started experimenting with raw foods and also cooking vegan meals.”

Amy said one of the main goals of their business is to create food that is not only healthy, but delicious.

“We are both total foodies, and we love flavors and textures of food,” she said.

“When we first decided to go raw and vegan, we found that there was a lot of tasteless, dry, and frankly gross foods out there.”

So the two sisters began experimenting, and quickly learned that it was not only possible to make really tasty raw and vegan foods, but fairly easy, as well.

Although their business initially focused mainly on raw foods, Amy and Rose said that they quickly realized there was just as much, if not more, interest in vegan dishes, so they expanded their selections to include both.

Rose, who Amy describes as “a baking genius,” has also added gluten-free baked goods to her repertoire.

“We realized that people who must eat gluten-free foods were as much in need of good products as vegans and people who eat raw foods,” Amy said.

Judd Hawkins, owner and manager of Kosama Tempe, a popular fitness facility on Warner Road near Priest, recently hired Amy and Rose to cater his studio’s one year anniversary.

“They do a great job of offering all kinds of different foods that are healthy and tasty,” he said.

Hawkins said he and his guests enjoyed the lettuce wraps filled with a vegan “chicken” salad, as well as bell peppers filled with guacamole, black beans and corn served with a side of kale chips.

Since no party is complete without cupcakes, Hawkins ordered gluten-free varieties that were a huge hit with the attendees, many of whom didn’t realize there were eating non-traditional cake.

“Everyone was really impressed,” he said.

Hawkins said he appreciates the way Amy and Rose share what they have learned about food in a low key way.

“They are all about giving information and helping others,” he said. “They want everyone to become informed customers and have everyone learn about it together.”

When they are not busy in the kitchen or hosting events, including a recent make-your-own pizza party that featured a dehydrated raw crust, raw tomato sauce and cheese made from almonds or cashews, Amy and Rose are working towards their goal of finding local stores that will carry some of their products.

“We are shopping around for places to carry our line of baked goods, such as Whole Foods Market and Tempe Indoor Farmers Market,” Amy said.

“We are also working on an interactive blog page about nutrition, and we have a line of t-shirts coming out.”

But beyond this, both Amy and Rose hope that people realize that eating raw and vegan foods is not a fanatical, tasteless, and tedious way to live. On the contrary, it’s increasingly mainstream, delicious and relatively easy.

“You don’t need to buy fancy powders or other things like that to eat like this,” Amy said. “You can buy everything you need just at the regular grocery store.”

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