Career Path: From baggage claim to best-selling cookbooks | Crain's

Career Path: From baggage claim to best-selling cookbooks

  • Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway started Thug Kitchen in 2012. | Photo courtesy of Josh Telles via Thug Kitchen.

    Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway started Thug Kitchen in 2012. | Photo courtesy of Josh Telles via Thug Kitchen.

  • Holloway handles the photography for all the recipes. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

    Holloway handles the photography for all the recipes. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

  • Thug Kitchen focuses on creating plant-based dishes. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

    Thug Kitchen focuses on creating plant-based dishes. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

  • Thug Kitchen 101 is a 'back-to-basics quick meal manifesto' according to the cookbook introduction. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

    Thug Kitchen 101 is a 'back-to-basics quick meal manifesto' according to the cookbook introduction. | Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen.

  • Thug Kitchen 101 debuted at number two on the New York Times bestsellers list. | Photo courtesy of Robyn Von Swank via Thug Kitchen.

    Thug Kitchen 101 debuted at number two on the New York Times bestsellers list. | Photo courtesy of Robyn Von Swank via Thug Kitchen.

  • Thug Kitchen 101 is the third cookbook for Davis and Holloway. | Photo courtesy of Robyn Von Swank via Thug Kitchen.

    Thug Kitchen 101 is the third cookbook for Davis and Holloway. | Photo courtesy of Robyn Von Swank via Thug Kitchen.

Los Angeles-based friends Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway are co-founders of Thugkitchen.com and the authors of several cookbooks under the Thug Kitchen moniker. Thug Kitchen started in 2012 as a Tumblr account promoting inexpensive vegan recipes—and a lot of profanity. At the time, it a was fun side project for the pair, who were both working jobs they hated.

That side project has grown over the past four years  (thanks, in part, to some early support from Gwyneth Paltrow on Rachael Rayinto a popular foodie blog—or as their website puts it, "the only website dedicated to verbally abusing you into a healthier diet"—and three cookbooks.

Their most recent cookbook, "Thug Kitchen 101," debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list.

BEFORE THE KITCHEN

Michelle: Neither Matt or myself had a fancy job. My first job ever was in high school at a bar. I started working there when I was 15 and I worked there until I graduated from high school and left home.  

After that, I worked at a few retail spots and then ended up working at a grocery store for eight years on the floor as a cashier and a bagger. It had gone way past cute, to this is my job and this is going to be my job, forever. 

Matt: My first real job was in construction when I was 15 years old and all the money I got from that went into buying an old beat-up Jeep so I could drive. In college I worked at an animal shelter, which was more volunteering, and I waited tables for a while too.

When I moved to L.A., I wanted to get into the entertainment industry but I didn't know anybody so I started in the mail room and then I went on to be someone's assistant at a company—basically because their assistant stopped showing up. So, they were like 'Hey, new guy! Get on the desk...'

COOKIN' IT UP:

Michelle: We were total strangers. We met at baggage claim at LAX and then went and got coffee.

Matt: [Thug Kitchen] came out of me trying to eat better. I was eating absolute garbage at the time that I met Michelle. 

Michelle: I opened up his fridge and there was Red Bull and frozen pizza. I have been vegan for 13 years now, so I was trying to get him to at least eat a vegetable.

But [when we looked at other food blogs] we felt really left out of the common dialogue around healthy eating and veganism. We didn't have any disposable income, we certainly didn't have land to farm and I didn't have a bunch of time to run around to 18 different farmers markets and buy the prettiest mushrooms.  

So we were like, why don't we do our own [blog] for people like us, who don't have a lot of money, don't have a lot of time but want to do right by themselves. 

We started [the blog] to make our lives seem less bad. We were still working our crappy jobs. We didn't think it was going to go anywhere, because you can't really dream like that when you are working for less than $23,000 a year.   

PLANT-BASED COOKBOOK DREAMS 

Michelle: And then the blog blew up. Publishers were knocking at our door.

Matt: [We talked to those publishers] that were interested because of our traffic but [they told us] it can't be vegan because vegan cookbooks don't sell and you can't swear—we'll have to blur it out, because no one will stock you guys.

Michelle: We didn't take the most money that was offered. We went with the publisher that believed in what we were doing and trusted us to execute the product. And it paid off. Our first book dropped and debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and that's when we started building this as an actual business. 

 

Editor's note: This conversation has been edited to remove profanity.

November 15, 2016 - 2:38pm