Healthful Eating Drives Entrepreneurs

Oakland County’s thriving food scene yields two local companies
Bottled in Detroit, Drench products are GMO-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, preservative-free and contain no refined sugars.

Eating clean is easy to do in Oakland County. With a wide variety of gourmet markets and seasonal farmers markets, healthy organic ingredients abound.

Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak has long served up delicious and popular vegetarian and vegan fare, joined more recently by the popular GreenSpace Café in Ferndale.

Many of the county’s authentic Indian restaurants, like Priya in Troy, are also havens for vegetarians and vegans. VegFest, an annual expo that promotes the vegan lifestyle, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi with 6,000 attendees and 150 vendors. Its growth over two decades reflects that plant-based eating has gone mainstream in Michigan.

Even locals who don’t adhere to a strictly meatless diet may have food allergies, dietary restrictions or simply a desire to incorporate more raw, GMO- and chemical-free foods into their lifestyles. Many local businesses have cropped up out of the growing demand for clean food.

Two of them — Drench and Crowded Kitchen — are finding great success.

Two’s a Crowd

Mother-and-daughter team Beth Sinclair and Lexi Harrison started their food blog, Crowded Kitchen, to share plant-based recipes they love.

Mother-and-daughter team Beth Sinclair and Lexi Harrison started their food blog, Crowded Kitchen, to share plant-based recipes they love.

“My mom has always cooked healthy meals for us at home. We ate really well growing up,” explains Harrison, Sinclair’s daughter.

When Harrison was in high school, she started developing food allergies and sensitivities that limited her choices. Around the same time, Sinclair traced the root of persistent health issues — migraines and skin problems among them — back to food.

“We had to drastically shift our diets,” Harrison says. “That changed everything.”

Ten years ago, the pair went gluten- and dairy-free. Since Harrison was then a cross-country runner at Andover High School (now Bloomfield Hills High School), and her mom was the team’s coach, they did it with a focus on nutrition.

Sinclair says she saw their new dietary limitations as a challenge.

“I’ve always really, really loved to cook and we have so much more knowledge now. It made me rethink things,” she says. “I became really passionate about teaching kids lifelong lessons that would help them enhance performance.”

As Sinclair honed her chops in the kitchen, Harrison went off to study English at Amherst College. She started an Instagram account in 2015, sharing what she ate as a college athlete with food limitations.

After working at a food media company in New York for a year, Harrison moved back to Michigan to pursue food blogging and food photography full time, recruiting her mom to help.

The pair create, test, photograph and share recipes out of their Royal Oak kitchen, growing an audience of more than 103,000 followers on Instagram and international visitors to their blog, along with securing sponsorships with large national brands.

Lizzy slaw from the Crowded Kitchen.

Recent recipes include watermelon berry salad with lime mint dressing, watermelon berry popsicles, quinoa tabbouleh, rainbow summer slaw and grilled romaine with vegan ranch.

Seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs form the basis of their recipes. As late summer ripens, Sinclair and Harrison troll produce sections at Plum Market, Holiday Market and Nino Salvaggio. They also shop farmers markets for blueberries, tomatoes, figs and a variety of greens.

“It’s always an inspiration to us to go and find beautiful, locally sourced produce,” Sinclair says. “We try to use a lot of made-in-Michigan products.”

Learn more and browse recipes at crowdedkitchen.com.

Diving into Dressings

Karen Akouri of Drench.

Karen Akouri began making her own salad dressings after she realized how many chemicals were in everyday products.

“Basically I had started reading labels and paying attention to the ingredients in the food I was feeding my family. I just couldn’t believe all the chemicals, especially in salad dressing,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense. I’m making this healthy salad, and now I’m going to pour chemicals on it?”

Friends clamored for her recipes and encouraged her to bottle her creations, although her husband, Jim, had his doubts.

“He said, ‘Oh, you can just add it to the list of all the other things you started but never finished,’ ” Akouri says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to prove him wrong. I’m going to follow through with this.’ ”

She launched Drench with her signature citrus honey vinaigrette in October 2018.

In less than a year, Drench has grown to include five dressings — Mediterranean lemon and balsamic fig vinaigrettes among them — with three new varieties on the way. Akouri has sold more than 20,000 bottles and Drench is carried in 50 stores throughout Michigan and Chicago, including Market Square in Birmingham; Market Fresh in Beverly Hills; and many more.

Her dressings are also featured in local restaurants and cafes.

Bottled in Detroit, Drench products are free of GMOs, dairy, gluten, soy and preservatives, containing no refined sugars. They can be used as marinades or dipping sauces as well.

“I want to be really transparent to the consumer,” she says. “All the ingredients are on the front so you know exactly what’s in it.”

Akouri is passionate about educating and encouraging people to cook at home with fresh ingredients.

“I always encourage people to make their own dressings, but if you don’t have time or you’re tired, it’s great to have Drench as a backup in your house,” she says.

Akouri can often be found offering samples of her products at local shops.

“I’m always out there trying to promote the brand,” she says. “People like to see the face behind the name. They love hearing it’s made locally.”

And her husband is coming around.

“He was so skeptical, but he’s so supportive,” she says. “But he’s a meat-and-potatoes guy. He doesn’t even eat salad.”

Find out more about and purchase Drench dressings at idrench.com.
Photos courtesy of Drench and Crowded Kitchen.