Rise and Shine with Julie Butcher

With the launch of The Vegan Knife, an online company selling allergen-free dessert mixes, Julie Butcher whipped up fresh home-baked hope for others with food allergies

Julie Butcher, owner and founder of The Vegan Knife
Julie Butcher, owner and founder of The Vegan Knife. Photography by Linsey Kelsey and Carolina Ovalle

Serendipity, the phenomenon of finding good things by chance, is a game changer we cannot plot, only appreciate. For Julie Butcher, a business owner, wife, and mother, serendipity is like a lucky penny that just keeps popping up. 

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Butcher is the eldest daughter of three children whose parents worked in law—her mother as a legal secretary and her father in a solo practice. 

Growing up, she loved going to school and excelled academically. When she was a high school freshman, she was accepted into an accelerated program that fast-tracked her to college, a situation that wasn’t for the faint of heart. 

In three years, she went off to the University of Puerto Rico, and though she was convinced to pursue a degree in psychology, journalism interested her as well. “Journalists have the ability to help the helpless and give them the opportunity to tell their story,” Butcher believes. “I felt that could have been a way of giving back.” She didn’t know it then, but serendipity would eventually help her find other ways to lend a hand. 

The company's product offerings include simple dessert mixes that can be made at home.
The company’s product offerings include simple dessert mixes that can be made at home.

In 2001, she attended Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Lansing. “My dream was to become a prosecutor,” she says. This time, when invited to join the accelerated two-year juris doctor program, Butcher took a polite pass. “It was a ridiculous schedule, and I realized I needed a social life.” 

Despite the heavy academic load and tutoring other students up to four times a week, she still managed to find time to fall in love with a third-trimester law student and teaching
assistant named Bradley Butcher. Originally, they met at a review session he was hosting. Then he was her tutor for two semesters. Eventually, their friendship blossomed into romance, and in September 2002, they tied the knot in Puerto Rico. 

When she graduated from law school in 2005, the couple moved to Miami for Bradley to pursue a master’s degree in law while she studied for the bar exam. A year later, they crossed the state to Estero, where Bradley accepted a job. Next, he opened his own real estate law firm. Once she became licensed to practice, Butcher represented employees in sexual harassment and discrimination cases. 

The Vegan Knife's chocolate cupcake.
The Vegan Knife’s chocolate cupcake.

After seven years of arguing with other attorneys and constant travel elevating Butcher’s stress levels, she felt sick and bloated. She saw doctors who prescribed allergy meds, but none could pinpoint the source of her symptoms and the
maladies continued. 

Through friends, she met the late Dr. Teresa Sievers, a well-known physician in Estero, who diagnosed what was triggering the allergies. After “a ton of questions and a slew of different panels,” Sievers told Butcher she could no longer eat dairy, gluten, or shellfish.

Once, while shopping at Publix for birthday cake baking supplies, she couldn’t find any gluten-free options that didn’t require milk or butter. “Having multiple food allergies, it was hard finding one product that worked for me,” she says. After Sievers recommended she try making gluten-free desserts at home, Butcher would share her creations with her doctor and her children to sample. “Dr. Sievers would tell me how good they were and that I should open my own food business,” she says. “I told her I didn’t have any culinary experience, but she said, ‘You can do it.’ She was the inspiration behind my business.”

The Vegan Knife's sugar-free birthday cake cupcakes
The Vegan Knife’s sugar-free birthday cake cupcakes.

Although she lacked experience, Butcher had grown up cooking meals for her younger twin brothers while her mother worked at night. When she was 10, she started baking and her first dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake, became her signature. In college, friends would invite themselves over  for dinners, and one asked her to make lasagna. 

In 2014, Butcher launched The Vegan Knife, a meal service with daily and weekly plans that delivered vegan and gluten-free entrées like eggplant Napoleon and coconut-curry chickpeas with coconut rice to homes around Southwest Florida. As add-ons, she offered salads and desserts. 

After a year, more health issues emerged, and she had to take a hiatus. Her husband recommended centering on one scalable area, and her allergen-free desserts were born. She started selling cupcakes and other baked goods to local stores and at farmers markets. Soon snowbirds and tourists were asking her to ship the desserts to their out-of-state residences, which created a new challenge. 

the company's prod- uct offerings include simple dessert mixes that can be made at homethe company's prod- uct offerings include simple dessert mixes that can be made at home

After more discussions with her spouse, Butcher transitioned The Vegan Knife into a national business, which meant converting her desserts into simple mixes that could be easily made at home. The process took two years to complete and was “the hardest project of my life,” she recalls. In 2018, The Vegan Knife’s doughnut, cupcake, and cake mixes—in flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and birthday cake—debuted online. Each gluten- and dairy-free product is vegan and contains none of the top eight food allergens. (As listed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, these include wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, and milk, along with fish and shellfish.) The mixes, sold in individual consumer packets and industrial-size bags for commercial businesses, can be purchased on the company’s website. 

Fortune touched Butcher once again in 2021 when she entered the Stacy’s Rise Project. Founded by Stacy’s Pita Chips, the program awards 10 female finalists each a $10,000 grant to grow her business, mentorships with the Frito-Lay leadership team, participation in a webinar series with other notable female leaders, and more. Butcher learned she was one of the finalists selected from 9,185 applications during a follow-up phone interview. 

The Vegan Knife's Birthday cake cupcake
The Vegan Knife’s birthday cake cupcake.

Ciara Dilley, vice president of Transform Brands with Frito-Lay North America at PepsiCo, says it was Butcher’s “business’s social impacts and sustainability factor as well as how she has faced recent challenges for her business” that impressed the judges. “The Vegan Knife is helping further a mission of delivering healthy, sustainable, and safe foods to everyone. It’s an absolute honor to have Julie Butcher as a part of the Stacy’s Rise Project Class of 2021.”

Julie Butcher, owner and founder of The Vegan Knife 2Now Julie’s days are a blur of Zoom meetings with peer-to-peer groups and mentors at Frito-Lay who are helping her with marketing and brand awareness and to better understand her core customer base. Every day, she works on rising to her full potential, which is the objective of the Stacy’s Rise Project. Her 15-year-old son Leon helps her with social media, and his friends are some of her biggest supporters. 

When she’s asked what her ultimate goal is, Butcher answers, “Recipe development. I absolutely wish someone would just give me a huge kitchen with all the raw ingredients at my disposal and let me play all day and create new things. That’s my dream.”

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