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Upton's Naturals Bringing Huge Seitan Packing Plant, Cafe to West Town

By Alisa Hauser | March 7, 2013 10:25am | Updated on March 7, 2013 11:32am

WEST TOWN —  An industrial stretch of Grand Avenue in West Town is about to get much busier — and healthier.

The shell of a three-story pre-cast concrete paneled building emerged recently on a corner lot that's been vacant for 30 years, and as soon as this summer, a national supplier of meat alternatives will be producing up to 1,500 pounds of seitan daily there, as well as serving up sandwiches stuffed with "faux meat" at a cafe in the building.

Pronounced SAY-TAHN, seitan is an all-natural "meat" alternative made of wheat water and spices and is sometimes called wheat gluten, mock duck and gluten meat.

Nicole Sopko, 32, vice president of Upton's Naturals, currently based in the West Loop's Fulton District, said Wednesday that the company has been shopping around for permanent space since it left its original location in Skokie and relocated temporarily a few years ago.

The 9,000 square-foot production facility at 2054 W. Grand Ave, on the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Hoyne in West Town, will serve as the headquarters for Upton's Naturals and is expected to be open by "June or July," according to Sopko.

"There's a demand for meat alternatives and healthier options," said Sopko, a yoga instructor.

Upton's Naturals produces multiple varieties of seitan, such as traditional, ground-style, Italian and chorizo, as well as bacon seitan in addition to pastrami and gyro seitan used by restaurants.

A work permit at the construction site also details a 646-square-foot green roof and bike racks, too.

Sopko said she and boyfriend Dan Staackmann, founder of Upton's Naturals, plan to eventually move to the neighborhood as well.

The couple, both vegans, were described as a "Vegan Powerhouse Couple" in a YouTube video.

A November 2011 Chicago Reader story describes Staackmann as the "seitan king" of Chicago. 

Sopko said that she's looking forward to the retail store and cafe providing more "face-to-face interaction" with customers.

"Everyone is really excited. Even people that weren't fans of us before are excited to see a cafe there. There's been a great response. There isn't anything like that right over there," she said.

Upton's Naturals has 16 employees, though with its new space it will be increasing production and adding a few workers to staff the cafe,  Sopko said. 

Currently Upton's products can be found at Whole Foods and restaurants and natural markets all over the country, including local market Green Grocer at 1402 W. Grand Ave.