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The Big Cheesy

Vegan ‘dairy’ company The Kula Connection gets a giant new home on wheels

Lex Nelson

Fifty-year-old Boise entrepreneur Michelle Russell paints a vivid picture of herself at 40: A decade ago, she said, she was depressed, crippled by allergies, 85 pounds heavier, drinking too much, and taking almost a dozen medications each day. Then, she decided to make a change. If she swapped out her job, she thought, she just might be able to swap out her life. 

In 2009, Russell accepted a job with the Department of Defense to teach kids on a military base in Tokyo, Japan.

“When I do things, and you’ll learn this about me, it’s radical,” she said. “When an idea occurs to me I go 110 [mph] in that direction instead of a baby step.” 

When crossing the globe failed to drop her pants size, Russell dove headfirst into another drastic change: she went vegan. As she started to shed the weight and her pills became unnecessary, she embarked on a path of plant-based research that eventually led her back to Boise to start her own business, a vegan “dairy” company she and her husband called The Kula Connection

Photo Credit: Lex Nelson

The Kula Connection began in a closet, but in just a few months it had moved to a downtown Boise commissary kitchen, where Michelle and a team of volunteers labored to turn cashews into vegan probiotics mimicking cheddar, mozzarella, cheese dip, yogurt and ice cream. A few months after that, in late July, The Kula Connection moved to a new home: A massive trailer once used to sling meals to hungry firefighters and now parked behind Roots Zero Waste Market. The whole process from closet to trailer took just six months. 

Today, Michelle is an energetic, wiry blonde with a deep tan and a bright smile. She can speak a mile a minute on the evils of processed food, and gets a bit evangelical about cashews, the not-so-secret ingredient that gives her ‘cheese’ its velvety texture. 

“They’re heart healthy, they help you fight osteoporosis, and they’re great as part of a weight-loss program,” she said. “But the most fascinating research for me is out of Harvard, and it says basically that because of cashews’ tryptophan quotient … they will help you sleep at night, but also allow you to take uptake more serotonin. So they literally are good mood food.” 

To taste for yourself, visit thekulaconnection.com, or find The Kula Connection at the Boise Farmers Market or Roots Zero Waste Market.  

Photo credit Kula Connection unless otherwise noted