Lauren Chew is the founder of Love + Chew.
Lauren Chew is the founder of Love + Chew.

This Chinese American Jew’s plant-based cookies are grounded in health and simplicity

As soon as she was old enough to know what was on her plate, Lauren Chew didn’t want to eat animals. But it’s hard to be in control of those choices when you’re a child.

As soon as she was on her own, she went cold turkey, cutting out all animal products from her diet.

“As a child, I wanted to go plant-based, more because of my love for animals,” said Chew, founder of the plant-based cookie company Love + Chew. “But as I got older, it became more about the environmental impact and my skin clearing up and feeling more energetic and happier, so it’s something I’ve stuck with my entire adult life.”

Chew grew up in the San Diego area, the daughter of a Chinese American father and a Polish Canadian mother. Her maternal grandmother cooked primarily Polish food, and she remembers visiting her father’s family in San Francisco, where he grew up, and going to banquet halls in Chinatown.

Now on the board of OneTable, the organization that matches young adults with Shabbat dinners, Chew belongs to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco with her family. Before she married, she hadn’t been thinking about converting.

“I wasn’t religious and didn’t feel strongly about any religion,” she said When her husband-to-be asked if she’d be open to attending an intro class at Emanu-El, she had no problem saying yes. But then she realized how much she felt she belonged.

“I just couldn’t get enough of it, and I felt so welcome there,” she said. “I related to a lot of Jewish values, and everything about it just made so much sense to me.” The couple had a Jewish-Chinese wedding and are raising their daughter in both traditions, too.

While Chew aspired to start her own company and be her own boss, she never planned to get into the food business. She moved to San Francisco after college and worked in renewable energy; baking plant-based cookies was something she did on the side. Her baking was inspired by her stepmother, who at the time had begun eating a plant-based diet, and she was impressed by her baked creations. Chew looked to find something similar in Bay Area stores that had minimal and local ingredients and no refined sugar. She found nothing comparable, so she started experimenting in her own kitchen.

Lauren Chew, founder of Love + Chew, outside Whole Foods, where her plant-based products are now available.
Lauren Chew, founder of Love + Chew, outside Whole Foods, where her plant-based products are now available.

Once she came up with a recipe she liked, she did a small launch in San Francisco. Her friends, who started out as some of her biggest supporters, asked their tech companies to bring them into their snack collections as a healthier alternative. Chew had to figure out co-packing (getting a factory to make something to your specifications), scaling and packaging.

Then Covid happened, and the offices shut down. She did a rebrand and began selling directly to customers through her website, and now she’s in all of Whole Foods’ Northern California stores, as well as a number of independent grocery stores in more than 20 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Her Love + Chew cookies come in four flavors: cherry almond, banana bread, chocolate chia, and mocha chip. A new flavor is coming soon: pumpkin chip. The ingredient list for all flavors begins with blanched almonds, date paste and almond butter. There is no other sweetener, unless there are chocolate chips. They are also gluten-free, soft and chewy. They are referred to as a “clean label” product, meaning no processed ingredients.

It’s been a bit of a learning curve figuring out where to locate the cookies in the grocery store. After trying out several different sections, she learned they sell best in the energy bar aisle, as her cookies have superfoods including chia seeds and 7 grams of protein.

The company has a robust marketing strategy, communicating with its customers through text messaging and getting a lot of feedback that way, and a presence on Instagram and TikTok. The cookies are sold individually in stores, which she says is a good way to try them before buying in bulk on her website.

Love + Chew donates 5 percent of all profits to the S.F.-based nonprofit Oasis for Girls, which provides middle and high school girls who are the first in their families to attend college with mentorship opportunities.

While Chew believes that 40 percent of her client base is fully plant-based, she is happy if she can offer an alternative to those who are just trying to eat fewer animal products.

“For most people, there are countless tiny decisions they make every day about their food choices, whether it’s doing ‘Meatless Mondays’ or eating my cookies,” she said. “But it adds up on a massive scale.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."