Plant Based Gurus
Interview with Annette Baker & Marianne Lacko
The owners of Nature’s Plate, plant based meals to go are an inspiration to those who strive to change their diets. Let’s learn more about this dynamic duo and how their growing and successful business came to fusion.
You are both sisters, did you grow up eating a plant based diet?
Marianne: No, but our parents always stressed unprocessed food. I can remember being so frustrated that our mom wouldn’t make us Hamburger Helper because all of our friends got to have it. She didn’t like to make things that came out of boxes.
When did you personally become vegan? Are your families all vegan?
Marianne: Annette decided to start eating vegan almost 20 years ago, and I couldn’t let her do it without me.
Annette: Marianne actually started the whole thing by going vegetarian first and then we both did more research which led us to veganism.
Marianne: We have several vegetarian/vegan family members, but it’s a mixed bag. There’s no doubt that our families overall eat less meat and other animal products than average. Our 80 year old father, for example, has moved to a primarily plant-based diet with small amounts of fish. Annette’s 23 year old daughter and my 32 year old son are definitely not vegan, but they are both on Nature’s Plate meal plans for their workday lunches.
What differences in your health have you noticed becoming vegans?
Annette: We both noticed a difference when we really embraced plant-based, whole foods about ten years ago. We both love to run and work out and have seen huge improvements in both of those areas since we started eating more whole foods.
How did your idea come to fruition for starting a “food to go” business?
Marianne: It was actually a very natural progression – Annette and I would both meal prep on Sundays and then we would trade so we had food for the work week. We did that for years and had others at my office participate at times. Several years ago (I guess 6 or 7), a good friend at work asked me if she could pay me to cook for her because my food always looked so good and so healthy. She didn’t feel like she had the time or knowledge of plant-based food to do it on her own. I told her I couldn’t because I had just had a baby and was feeling overwhelmed already. I told Annette about it and she wanted to try it. She cooked for my friend and ended up cooking for several of my other co-workers for a couple of years. Then we started to think we could really do something with it. We both had long careers (20+ years) in the corporate world and were ready for a change.
Your food is very unique. It’s so wonderful and it is plant based. Why was it important to you to focus on a vegan diet? Everything is vegan…right?
Annette: Everything is definitely vegan. We originally started eating vegan for ethical reasons and continue to be personally motivated by that, but the more we learned about nutrition and plant-based eating, the more we felt that we could really help people. That’s what our business is about – making plant-based food accessible and convenient.
Is everyone ordering from you completely vegans or is there a range of people who are enjoying your food?
Marianne: There is a whole range of people who eat our food and that makes us very happy! We love helping so many people enjoy good, healthy meals. We just want to help everyone eat more plants… whether they are vegan, transitioning to plant-based eating, or plan to continue eating animal products and just want to enjoy healthy, convenient meals.
I know one of you focuses on baking and the other more on the cooking aspect. Can you explain this more?
Marianne: I have always loved baking and really enjoyed veganizing things I had made for years – it was even more fun to make those same recipes more healthful by replacing refined flours and sugars. I was already doing that for myself and my daughter so it was easy. Annette got very interested in cooking as she gave up animal products. Using a wider variety of ingredients (compared to the standard American diet) opens up so many possibilities.
Your menu is diversified with everything from eggless salad wraps to enchiladas with cheese sauce to desserts. How do you get your ideas and then decide which ones to put on the menu?
Annette: Ideas come from all over the place – things we’ve eaten in the past, pictures we see on social media, etc. The recipe development process includes several members of our team, and we do extensive taste testing and revising along the way. Many ideas get abandoned – the ones that make it are the ones where we can make the nutrition profile and the flavor/texture come together. Our testers include employees and relatives. We like to have a wide variety of people try things out including vegans and meat-eaters.
How often do you put new items on the menu?
Marianne: At least quarterly. We like to keep things fresh and interesting.
Can you explain how your weekly mean plans work? How do people get their food?
Annette: Weekly meal plans can be picked up on Thursday or Sunday/Monday – or both. Locations for pick up include our store in Lake Highlands and weekly pop up spots in Oak Cliff and Plano. Of course, we always have meals and bakery items available in our store – 7 days a week.
I know your business has expanded quickly and you’ve been very busy. I stop by and eat at the store and there are a few chairs so people can eat there, have you thought about expanding and opening a bigger restaurant? (I think I’m being hopeful here…Dallas needs more restaurants with vegan/vegetarian options.)
Marianne: We are definitely expanding, but our current plans are to open additional retail locations where prepared meals and baked goods will be available, using our current kitchen as a commissary to supply the other spots. We don’t currently have plans to open a restaurant – that would be a different model for sure. But watch for news about other locations soon!
Nature’s Plate is located in Northlake Shopping Center 10233 E. Northwest Hwy Suite 432 in Dallas. They can be reached at 469-307-4217 and online at naturesplate.biz.