The Masa Casa and Nourish are making vegan food for the soul

By Amber Donoghue

September 7, 2016

Punk music, knuckle tattoos and vegan food might not be your initial thoughts that come to mind when thinking about delectable fare. Walking into the commercial kitchen of Nourish, I find Julia Simon and husband, Erik Berns sitting in a small lobby waiting eagerly to share with me their mission to help people eat better. Through the door behind them I could hear Moon Taxi playing, mixing bowls being shuffled around and a very pleasant savory smell floating in the air. This is vegan food?

Julia is a beautifully vibrant creative type sporting a bandana holding her hair back neat. Erik is quite tall and covered in interesting tattoos that draw curiosity. He tells me the story of how he and Julia met. “At a party in my friends apartment in 1996.” he said, smiling at his wife. “She walked in and immediately we were friends. She wore patches from a band I really liked and gave me one. I was 16, she was 14. I’m 37 now.” The couple remained friends for years as they moved away to different cities for college. Never breaking their connection, he tells me that they talked everyday. Eventually he moved to New York where Julia was studying art to be with her until they came to Charlotte in 2009.

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Julia Simon owner of Nourish. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

Nourish, a local healthy meal delivery service was started by Simon, a longtime vegetarian turned vegan, who couldn’t find accessible food to fit her dietary and moral practices. “Nourish is built to be beautiful and accessible and [un]pretentious,” she explained. The vegan scene was small when the former NYC residents took up the Queen City as their home. The Masa Casa, a traveling plant-based tamale cart started by Berns was explained more as a pop-up concept. “It kind of comes up and tries to grab some of that punk energy. Who the hell knows where it’s going to be? Mostly at good music venues, good breweries and art openings. We have a lot of friends that do art here so we come and pop up the table and serve people that we love.”

Nourish and Masa Casa are 100% vegan and use local produce and organic fare. Nothing is pre-made or -packaged. I have no idea how people cook without butter, but these socially conscious cooks make amazing food with clever tricks and techniques. “We spend more time, more money. We have really high standards. No preservatives, no GMOs,” Simon mentioned. “You can do it. It can be done.”

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Erik Berns, owner of The Masa Casa and Julia Simon, owner of Nourish. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

Simon and Berns are living examples of why the vegan concept works. After working in the corporate world for 12 years, Berns told me that he came back to Charlotte with his wife as an overweight, unhappy functioning alcoholic. Through the process of eating the food Julia would make him, coupled with exercise and a more healthy lifestyle, Erik is now sober and healthier than he says he was as a teenager. “I lost 75-80 lbs. I am a completely different human being. A lot of it is due to Nourish.”

Opening a vegan food concept in the BBQ mecca wasn’t the easiest, the couple admitted. It took the best ingredients, tons of energy, passion and really arduous work. “We want to get in between people and the not-so-great food decisions they make when they’re busy and stressed,” Julia said. It’s hard to believe how open and non-judgemental they are. When I hear someone tell me they’re vegan I immediately think of a red paint throwing, yoga-crazed, sign-holding protester. I was 100% wrong. They just don’t eat animal products. This couple makes healthy, delicious, conveniently accessible, and award-winning food that they now deliver statewide. People eat Nourish to save time, feel good, eat healthy, and even while recovering from chemo. People eat Masa Casa tamales in cool and random spots enjoying unique views, sounds and art. They think about the effects their food has on their environment and community. Maybe it’s intimidating to think about changing our behaviors and diets so drastically, but Julia and Erik are here to help: “Trust us. We will do it for you.” And once you taste their food, you’ll feel at home, and very well nourished.    

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