Dr-Cow: (Organic, Vegan) Moo
Sarah Cahlan | Photography by Michael Marquand
“Eating more conscious food, healthy food and why not make cheese out of nuts?”
Pablo Castro, one of the co-owners of Dr-Cow, said as he sat at the window of his vegan shop. Nestled under the Williamsburg Bridge on a popular strip of restaurants, boutiques, and bars, Dr-Cow caters to vegans craving alternative cheeses, milk, and pastries and non-vegans willing to taste test plant-based organic treats.
The dark green façade, cartoonish cow, and geometric designs outside the shop offer a unique backdrop to the cityscape of South Williamsburg. The design lends itself to Pablo and his co-owner and wife, Veronica Schwartz’ South American background where, as Veronica said with a shrug, “we see things in a different way.” And not just in the design of the shop but in the craftsmanship of the food.
"We do everything from scratch; everything is like that here, very pristine." The ingredients are high-quality, and the flavor combinations are unique. “We’re trying to have our own identity,” said Pablo, “in a way, our own flavors, things that we like.” And since Dr-Cow has been in business for over a decade, first for wholesale, markets, restaurants, and individuals, then as a storefront, it seems as if the local community likes what they're cooking.
And the people and landscape of South Williamsburg have changed significantly since Pablo and Veronica first started experimenting with nut-based cheese.
Although the neighborhood still hosts a Hasidic community built by European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and Latin American immigrants who first came to the borough in the 1960s seeking factory jobs, the feel has begun to mirror that of Lower East Side, Manhattan.
Within twenty years, artists seeking refuge from high rents in the LES moved into North Williamsburg, and then eventually past Grand Street to South Williamsburg. The culture became cool with hipsters leading the way. Developers followed. Money followed. Chic boutiques, shining housing developments, and an expanded food scene opened.
But in the early 2000s when Pablo and Veronica first started their business, South Williamsburg was not known for alternative culinary eats.
“We wanted to do something for the neighborhood,” Pablo said with a smile. “There’s nothing compared in, around. We had the space so we thought, why not open a cheese shop, a cheese, no cheese shop.”
Vegan stores were few and far between during their first couple years of business, but today competition ranges from vegan creperies, vegan diners, and vegan ice creameries all within a few blocks radius. But Dr-Cow adds a unique taste to the new vegan scene. Their fare doesn’t attempt to be a diary substitute but a whole new flavor experience.
“If you don’t put anything into your mindset, it’s not going to be cheese,” said Pablo describing how a new customer should approach his food, “but if you just let your mind flow, you will probably say, “mmm, that’s a nice cashew cheese.”
A cheese that is “creamy” and “tangy" and easy to digest and comprehend. No hidden preservatives or ingredients that read like a chemical compound.
“We wanted to make it more simple, also – few ingredients, ingredients, that you can read, that you understand what it is, simple food,” said Pablo, “It’s good for you. It’s good for the gut. It’s good for everybody.”