Food Trucks

The Mother-Son Team Behind This Food Truck Wants to Save the Planet, One Vegan Meal at a Time

Karen and Saer Amrhein of Grateful Planet Foods.
Karen and Saer Amrhein of Grateful Planet Foods. Chris Byard
"I've been looking for a way to get out of the corporate world for a long time," says Karen Amrhein, who's worked at an engineering firm as a program manager for twenty years. "So I've been trying to find a way to start a business."

Enter her son, Saer Amrhein, a chef who sharpened his culinary skills working in the restaurant industry after moving to Arizona to attend college. "I got out there and got a job cooking in a scratch vegan restaurant, running this kitchen by myself. ... I kind of got thrown in the fire there and just fell in love with it," he recalls. "I didn't really keep going to school, because it was just this whole other world that I got to go into every day. That was so amazing; I loved it so much.

Despite his mother's best efforts to persuade him to finish college, Saer insisted that he wanted to open a vegan food truck. "Eventually, we came together and thought, let's use our power for good," Karen says. After a lot of discussion, the two went all in on their plan last January. "We really thought we could do this and it would be a way that we could help make it easy for people to eat plant-based," she adds.

Taking inspiration from one of their favorite bands, the Grateful Dead, the mother-and-son team named their venture Grateful Planet Foods. But, as is common with many new business ventures, not everything went exactly as planned.

Karen originally expected to be able to launch the truck in May. "That was not what happened," she admits. After taking out a loan on her house and finding a truck to purchase in Texas, they booked tickets, bought the truck and began driving home. On the last day of their journey, they noticed that the engine was leaking. "It took us from May until October to find someone and then get the engine fixed," Karen recalls. "During this time, we tried to finish what we thought were just repairs on the kitchen. No, not repairs: We had to get a full new kitchen. It was like $20,000 extra."
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Seitan Snackers with teriyaki and buffalo sauce.
Chris Byard
When Grateful Planet Foods launched in October, both Karen and Saer quit their jobs to focus on the new business full-time. "This is a tough time to get started, and we're selling plant-based, which some people get mad about and run away from," Karen says. But the two are on a mission to support the environment and change the way people think about plant-based food.

About six years ago, the Amrhein family decided to alter their own eating habits after viewing the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Report. "I've always been an environmentalist," Karen explains. "That's what my degree was in, and when I watched that documentary, I realized that there was a lot I didn't know about what was happening. I let everyone know, and Saer watched the video, and we all agreed that we were changing our wicked ways."

Altering their diet was not easy. "Saer calls us home vegans, because we didn't know any vegans and became plant-based in isolation, and not in a super supportive environment," Karen continues. "But that didn't matter, because we just knew that was what we needed to do."

While they may not have known any vegans, the Amrheins found support and inspiration from an unlikely source: the Wu-Tang Clan — specifically RZA, the de facto leader of the group and a huge promoter of the vegan lifestyle. "[The Wu-Tang Clan] knew they had something amazing. It was a hard climb. But every time we run into problems, we turn to quotes by RZA and the other members that we have on our wall and it keeps us going," Karen explains.
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A trio of tacos: Beefy, Chxsten Tinga and Cauli Bam.
Chris Byard
As the two continue to navigate the food truck business after only a few months of operation, they are excited to find new inspiration from the community. "The most fun is whenever we can convince somebody who's not plant-based to have our food and then have them say that they like it. That's the best," Karen says.

While they serve a variety of options to curb your appetite, there are some standouts. "My favorite is probably the Chxsten Tinga tacos," says Saer. The tacos are loaded with housemade seitan that gets a smoky kick from chipotle.

Grateful Planet also serves sandwiches like Buffalo Chxsten and a vegan take on a French dip, both of which are capable of converting meat lovers to fans of plant-based eating. For something light, opt for the Seitan Snackers, crispy fried bites of the truck's Chxsten topped with housemade teriyaki and buffalo sauces.

Rolling into 2023, the team is setting the bar high, with big ambitions for the future. The Amrheins plan to increase community engagement by working with organizations to teach people how to make plant-based foods at home. They also want to expand their reach by selling their seitan in local grocery stores.

In the meantime, you can purchase seitan from Grateful Planet in bulk every Sunday at Ratio Beerworks (2920 Larimer Street). Head to gratefulplanetfoods.com to find the truck's complete schedule, which includes stops at other breweries, as well.

"We're saving the planet one delicious meal at a time," Karen concludes.
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Chris Byard, a transplant from Alabama, arrived in Colorado in 2010 years ago and never looked back.Having previously worked at the Kitchen and Tavernetta, he developed a love for Denver hospitality.Currently, he maintains ties with the community and shares his love for hospitality as a co-host of thepodcast Stoned Appetit.
Contact: Chris Byard

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