AUBURN GRESHAM — Jimmy’s Vegan Cookies are so delicious that even non-vegans indulge in the dessert that just landed in Whole Foods.
“I really like the cookies, surprisingly, because I’m a big meat eater,” said 32-year-old Rabiatu Barrie of South Shore.
“I was skeptical about the cookies, but they’re delicious. I was pleasantly surprised.”
“I love them,” said Leah Gipson, an Austin resident. “I think they are better than a lot of cookies that aren’t vegan. I think that part of the challenge when you’re trying to introduce a healthy dessert is convincing people that they want to actually taste it.”
Jimmy Prude, 33, celebrated watching his vegan cookies get placed on the shelf at the Whole Foods at Roosevelt Road and Canal Street over the weekend. They’ll also be in the new Englewood Whole Foods when the store opens in August.
“It's a great feeling,” he said. “This opportunity was well worth the time and work we put into it.”
He said operating the company is like being in business school all over again, but “24/7.”
“It’s fun, the risks are exhilarating and the payoff is worthwhile. I've learned to enjoy the wins, but not be too enthralled.. They come and go, like the ebbs and flows of business. You keep moving, and find joy in being able to move towards the next opportunity.”
Prude, an Auburn Gresham resident, said for years, “I had certain health issues I wanted to address. I also wanted to change my lifestyle with regards to how I saw family health traits. I was a chubby kid in my youth and I didn’t want that to be my story as I got older. I didn’t want to be afflicted with health issues because of my weight.”
He didn’t make the jump immediately. When he graduated from Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., with his bachelor's degree in business and information technology, he started working as a project manager at Microsoft in 2007. It was there that Prude participated in a nutrition program.
“It actually helped change the way I viewed food,” he said.
Eventually, Prude would find that his body had become intolerant to anything with dairy in it.
“I pretty much became a vegetarian,” he said, adding that he began to notice the effect the plant-based lifestyle was having on his body.
When he moved back to Chicago he became a technology teacher at Perspectives Charter School. Shortly after, he became a community organizer with the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation in 2010.
As a person with a “sweet-tooth,” Prude said he couldn’t seem to find any affordable vegan desserts he liked. That’s how he ended up making his own.
Jimmy’s Vegan Cookies launched in 2011. Both of his cookies contain natural Amish grains, stone-ground whole wheat, coconut oil and agave nectar. The Loaded Vegan has vegan dark chocolate chips and the Dark-Berry Vegan has the vegan dark chocolate chip and cranberries.
Now more non-vegans purchase his cookies than vegans, but that’s a good thing, he said.
“Non-vegans buy it because they want a healthy alternative,” Prude said. “They want to be able to experience a vegan product that tastes great while also being able to continue to have their chicken.”
That was one of his goals, he said. Prude wants to get people thinking about incorporating healthy alternatives into their diet.
He doesn’t consider himself a “vegan evangelist” and said simply changing one’s diet won’t eliminate the health disparities found in the African-American community because there are other factors.
“Health issues in neighborhoods of color aren’t necessarily always 100 percent linked to food,” Prude said, adding that environmental stressors of one’s neighborhood and internal stressors play a role. It’s a combination of things, he said.
“Does a vegan lifestyle help with overall health? Yes. But for people in those neighborhoods, is that the solution? No.”
Rather than suggest that everyone become vegan, Prude is an advocate for encouraging people to incorporate healthier alternatives into their diet.
He said he never dreamed that he would be where he is today. The goal was to always have his own I.T. firm here in Chicago.
Now Prude’s goal is to bring a production facility to Chicago.
“That is the ultimate goal because for me that leads to business growth and development.” he said. “It’ll bring jobs and also offer other small businesses leverage. They need that facility and they need a production facility to leverage their product.”
Prude has advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. He wants them to read the fine print on everything and stay focused on their dream.
“Make sure you don’t spend unnecessary money on licenses that you may not need,” he said.
“There’s always going to be bad days, but you can’t let them deter you from your overall vision. The only thing that keeps you driven at the end of the day is that vision. The vision is ultimately offering you some kind of freedom in your life that you want. You have to stick with the vision.”
Check out his website at www.Jimmysvegancookies.com.
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