Lafayette native Taylor Stokes feels like she was raised in the kitchen. Growing up helping her mother prepare meals, she loved the big, traditional dishes they made together. But over time Stokes discovered she had a particular fondness for the salad portion of the meals. Through the years, developing her love for plant-based eating and watching her hard-working single mother, Stokes became motivated to create her own product: flavored kale chips.
“I’ve definitely always wanted to seek opportunity and wasn’t afraid of working hard,” Stokes affirms. “Most of the products I create are because of something I want and can’t find.”
With the encouragement of her mother and with her growing determination to provide healthier food options for locals, Stokes launched Taylormade Eats in 2012. Today, working from her company kitchen in Grand Coteau, Taylormade Eats chips have become so popular, the 500 bags she typically makes per week are no longer enough to satisfy orders.
Now available in four flavors – cajun cheddar, sour kream and onion, kayenne, and cheezy kale – Taylormade Eats products have been picked up by all Whole Foods locations in Louisiana and Houston, as well as Lafayette’s Handy Stop Market, Champagne’s Market, Karma Collective, I Love Juice Bar, Rêve Coffee Roasters and Drug Emporium. Stokes also has a strong online marketplace, where her customers can purchase directly from her.
It Started at the Farmers Market
While attending University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Stokes waited tables at two local restaurants: Dwights and Mazen Grill. On days the farmer’s market was open, she made it a tradition to go at the end of the day, after her shift ended, to search for healthy treats. She found that very little remained by the time she arrived – except for an abundance of kale. That’s when she had an idea.
She bought all the kale she could find and made it her mission to perfect her technique of making kale chips. She invested in a dehydrator and Vitamix blender and began making her own batches of the healthy snack. Naturally she was proud of her creation, so she took a bag of her chips to the farmer’s market. She asked the vendors if they provided a similar product, and they did not. So they encouraged her to make her own chips and sell them at the farmer’s market, herself.
“It was a fun way at the time to make a little bit of extra money,” Stokes says. “And it made it possible for me to buy organic, healthy items, which tend to be more expensive.”
In 2014 Whole Foods Market in Lafayette was taking notice of Stokes’ popular kale chips and asked her to sell her products in the store. Overjoyed by the offer, Stokes pulled a few all-nighters to work on proper packaging for her product, ditching the Ziploc bags that she once used and opting for branded bags. Stokes is reminiscent about the “little kitchen” in Arnaudville that she worked from during those years, which was actually a storage container. She credits the space with helping her get to her new, bigger kitchen in her current Grand Coteau location. Today her start-up “side hustle” has turned into a full-time job that she loves.
Most traditional kale chip recipes involve frying the leaves in oil or baking them in an oven to achieve a crispy crunch. But Stokes likes to do things a little differently. In order to make the snacks as healthy as possible and to retain the nutrients, while removing the moisture, she dehydrates the kale instead.
While listening to audiobooks or music, Stokes begins the process by washing and drying all the kale leaves. Next she makes a sauce with sunflower seeds
and other local, organic ingredients. She likes to provide flavors connected to the Acadiana area as much as possible. She mixes the sauce, which is the consistency of “nacho cheese,” with the kale then lays the seasoned leaves on flat baking trays. She then dries them in dehydrators overnight, and repeats the process again.
When she’s not too swamped with kale chip orders, she does plate lunch pop-ups at the Lafayette Farmers and Artisan Market on Saturdays and at Handy Stop Market in Lafayette on Sundays. The Taylormade Eats online meal prep option is temporarily suspended due to the high demand of her kale chips, and Stokes’ points out she always welcomes extra hands to help fulfill these other services. With healthy alternatives not always easily accessible, meal prep services and pop-up plate lunches can help make healthy options more accessible to local plant-based eaters.
It Wasn’t Easy
Stokes never had a problem working hard. “It definitely was something that was instilled in me at a young age,” she says. Still, in the early days of her business, she often doubted herself because of other people’s opinions that plant-based or vegan foods were not something people would consider buying. Stokes knew there must be others out there who would enjoy the same types of foods she enjoyed and would support her products. She remembers being greatly motivated and encouraged by her mother over the years, but also has discovered she needs to be her own cheerleader, constantly telling herself, “learn to believe.”
Self-doubt wasn’t the only struggle for Stokes. As she looks back, she wishes she would’ve educated herself more on how to get proper funding for her business when first launching. After reaching out to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), Stokes finally received assistance in funding her business. Although she missed
out on all the pandemic-related loans and incentives, LEDA assigned her a financial advisor who helped her with accounting, organizing her financial books and taking advantage of other types of government aid.
Stokes is always brainstorming for ideas, which typically come from her own preferences or what she sees as lacking in the area. She has her eye on expanding into other stores, like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, so her main goal right now is to keep up with the high demand of her product and maintain a robust inventory. Though selling out can be a good problem to have, it creates more obstacles for her when regular customers are waiting on their orders.
By the end of the summer, Stokes also plans on getting back to the pre-COVID demos she previously did at the local Whole Foods Market. Giving out samples of her products in stores is one of her favorite parts of the job, because of the familiar farmer’s market feel.
Another long term goal of the young health food provider is to teach others how to make her product, so that they can help grow her kale chip business and so she can help create jobs. Being a job creator can be beneficial in multiple ways for Stokes, but most importantly it would free her up to expand her business.
“Anyone can do it,” the Lafayette native assures confidently. “It gets a little hot in the summer, but other than that, it’s a pretty simple job.” And for her fellow would-be entrepreneurs out there, she offers this advice: “Believe in yourself, listen to audiobooks, and just put in the time to teach yourself.”