Not So Cheesy

Syracuse native Jarred Vryhof fills the need for healthy, cruelty-free food options, one block of cheese at a time.

Standing at nearly six feet tall with a brawny build and tattoos covering his biceps, Jarred Vryhof says people are always surprised to learn he is an animal-loving, plant-eating vegan. Driven by his experimental appetite, Vryhof started making non-dairy cheese last year when he and two friends were planning to open a vegan restaurant. Although Vryhof’s business partners eventually backed out, he followed his passion for cooking and improving the plant-based food options in Syracuse.

Photo: Aaron Nah
Vegan cheese innovator Jarred Vryhof.

Now, Plant Made Alternative Foods is the only Syracuse-local vegan cheese supplier. After struggling with health issues, the 27-year-old Syracuse native switched to a vegan lifestyle two-and-a-half years ago. “I haven’t had meat cravings and I could never eat it again,” Vryhof says with a grimace. “But I do crave that,” he points to a small, white plate carrying a single slice of PMA’s “not-zarrella,” his version of mozzarella. Next to it is a tiny plastic ramekin filled with vegan feta, marked with a “v” in black marker on the lid to distinguish it from Funk ‘N Waffles’ regular feta. Vryhof has worked at Funk ‘n Waffles for four years, but he is more than just a cook at the University Hill favorite.

With improved health and a new positive outlook, Vryhof felt inspired to share the benefits of a vegan lifestyle with the Syracuse community. Vryhof started PMA Foods in 2014 after taking a few classes with the Southside Innovation Center for budding entrepreneurs. He wanted the name to be descriptive and self-explanatory, and he saw an opportunity to spread positivity with the company’s acronym, PMA.

“PMA also stands for Positive Mental Attitude, which is just about keeping positive in bad times and keeping going forward,” says Vryhof. Vryhof needed a positive mental attitude at the time of PMA Foods’ inception, after working on a restaurant with two friends who eventually traded the business for a baby. “We were going to open up a small restaurant,” Vryhof explained. “We took all these classes getting it going and the two that I was with started falling in love, which is cool, but they just started booking off together.” Vryhof continued taking classes at the Southside Innovation Center to fuel his passion for sharing different types of vegan food with the community.

Noticing a lack of locally made vegan cheeses in Syracuse, Vryhof saw an opportunity to both fill his cheese cravings and provide non-dairy alternatives to Funk ‘n Waffles customers. After Adam Gold, the owner of Funk ‘n Waffles, tried Vryhof’s vegan cheeses, he added it to the menu in January. “One time he made me a Falafel Waffle with vegan feta and I couldn’t even tell it wasn’t real cheese,” Gold says. “It’s really good stuff and I’m psyched that we get to offer his food.” As a young entrepreneur himself, Gold encouraged Vryhof to continue expanding his vegan food offerings. “I want him to have more recipes and I want him to just keep growing,” says Gold. “I think he has a really good business model and his stuff is phenomenal.”

Gold wasn’t the only local restaurateur who liked Vryhof’s vegan cheeses. Devan Coon, general manager at Strong Hearts Café on East Genesee Street, brought the vegan feta to his bosses after ordering it at Funk ‘n Waffles in March. “We toyed with the idea of making our own [vegan cheese],” Coon says. “I tried a sample of Jarred’s cheese and it was better than what we were serving already.”

Although PMA Foods currently only sells two soy-based cheeses, Vryhof shared his excitement about a new recipe for seitan, a wheat protein used as a meat substitute, and vegan smoked Gouda. Vryhof recently helped Funk ‘n Waffles create a new vegan menu for the fall, which might include his seitan recipe. “It’ll have all the vegan cheese on it and a lot of new menu items like vegan burgers and vegan chicken,” says Gold. 

Vryhof says he wants to add more products to PMA Foods over the next month, but he says he would be overwhelmed if he tried to sell his cheese in other restaurants too quickly. “If I’m doing too much of it I’m going to get loopy and give up,” Vryhof says. It takes ten minutes for Vryhof to make one pound of the vegan feta, but the “not-zarrella” forms over night, which slows down his production. “I have this tiny little food processor because it’s all I can afford,” Vryhof says.

Working alone with limited kitchen resources hasn’t stopped Vryhof from investing his time in PMA Foods and sharing the benefits of vegan food with the community. Vryhof says he notices people responding positively to the different vegan options offered around the city, but especially downtown at the Armory Square Funk ‘n Waffles, which sells five times the amount of vegan cheese sold at the University Hill location.

“People love vegan cheese, at least they better, or else,” Vryhof says, shaking his fist.

Not So Cheesy

Excellent article that demonstrates exactly what America and the "American Dream" is all about where a young man with an idea, determination, intuitive skill and his experimental appetite,identified a market, in this case the lack of locally made vegan cheeses, and set out to fill that void by producing a non-dairy cheese product that is said to be so good by people who have tasted it that they couldn’t even tell it wasn’t real cheese. Obviously it was a steep learning curve to achieve this level of taste and quality however,it has paid off in the continuing positive acclaim his cheese has earned and the search for new product recipes. The is no standard method for success other than what has been shown here and that is a dream, determination and the love of what you are doing.


GREAT article .What a service he is doing I wish him great success.

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