Three years ago, Bethel Park resident Sam Stephan started having some serious digestive issues.
The good news is she discovered the type of diet that allows her to feel pretty much the same as your typical 20-something.
The not-so-good news is, well, the diet.
“Not only is that difficult, because you have to cook everything at home,” she said, “but it also makes you sad, because going out to eat is my favorite thing ever.”
Going out for hot beverages is way up there, too, and one of her favorite venues is Redhawk Coffee in Oakland. She is among the many people who can’t consume dairy products, and so she started making milk from almonds, which she’d take along to Redhawk.
On one visit, she asked if the baristas would “steam this in a drink?”
The baristas did and were suitably impressed.
“Before long, they approached me saying how great this nondairy milk was,” Stephan recalled. “It foamed and performed better than any other brands they offered.”
And so the Redhawk baristas eventually came to a conclusion.
“You should start a business with this,” she recalled of their recommendation, “or at least you should make it so we can use it.”
That was the beginning of Alt. Milk, which Stephan produces and sells through a company she calls Fickle Fox Foods. She makes drinks from coconut, almonds and pecans, unsweetened or flavored with dates, strawberries or dark chocolate.
“It has been a lot of learning, for sure. It kind of started with me having to get the recipes perfect, and testing it out on people,” said the daughter of Mark and Sherry Stephan. “I started with just the unsweetened one, because that was what I needed and I feel like lower sugar can be good for all diets.”
Agreeing wholeheartedly on that score would be Asanté Bierria, who is partnering with Sam this summer in a booth set up Saturday mornings at the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Market. His business is Pure Grub, named for the ingredients, or lack thereof, of the food he serves.
“There’s no dairy, no gluten, no processed sugar,” he said. “We want you to be fueled, balanced and feeling good and sustained.”
Pure Grub’s menu includes what he calls “balls of goodness,” snacks that actually are good for you.
“The Brazil nut is the main ingredient, and the Brazil nut, itself, is a complete protein,” Bierria said.
Other ingredients in the snacks include pepitas, pecan, macadamia and “healthy fat from coconut oil.”
For flavoring, he uses the likes of ginger, cinnamon and cacao, and he offers a “superfood blend” with maca, a Peruvian plant related to broccoli, cabbage and kale; moringa, a tree native to India containing an impressive array of nutrients; and matcha, finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves.
Bierra also flattens the snack balls to make coconut agave ice cream sandwiches.
Having studied at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore., Bierra has a background of working with the dietary needs of people who have conditions such as gout, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
“Then I realized, this should be for the masses. This shouldn’t be a secret,” he said.
He has a commercial kitchen in Mt. Washington and also operates in a partnership with Brassero Grill in Braddock, pairing the restaurant’s traditional Mexican food with his Cuban-West Indian specialties.
Bierra and Stephan met during events at Pittsburgh Juice Co. in Lawrenceville, and they decided to team up to offer Alt. Milk and Pure Grub, first at the Bloomfield Saturday Market and then in Mt. Lebanon.
“I can do the drink and he can do the food, and everybody’s happy,” Stephan said. “And it’s fun to collaborate with people, too.”