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Sara Liu of Parlor City Vegan was awarded $5,000 as the winner of the 2018 edition of the City of Binghamton Business Plan Competition.
Jeff Platsky / Staff video

Sara Liu’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm was born out of a family health crisis.

After her father suffered a serious heart attack at the age of 58, she knew his favorite meal — macaroni and cheese — would be off-limits on his new low-fat diet.

As a longtime vegan, she set out to find a plant-based cheese substitute. Through experimentation, she whipped up a vegan creamy cheese sauce to combine with macaroni for a faux version of her dad’s favorite dish.

Her father, a Tioga County resident, used to mock her vegan ways — until he tried her alternative mac and cheese.

With her father convinced, the 35-year-old former director of Chemung County Habitat for Humanity and current employee of Broome County thought she may be on to something.

Now she and her husband, Lei, have a startup — Parlor City Vegan — that germinated out of the recipe she developed by her then-recovering dad. She’s not only preparing the food for her dad, but now is selling all three products commercially.

On Wednesday, the business was selected as this year’s winner of the City of Binghamton business plan competition, beating out a half-dozen other applicants.

“We know they have a fantastic business, and we know this business is going to flourish,” said Jan Hertzog, director of continuing education and workforce development at SUNY Broome Community College and one of the program administrators.

Her fledgling operation grew from a residential kitchen to a booth at the Saturday edition of the Broome County Farmer’s Market in the Town of Dickinson. At her opening in 2016, she sold 10 sandwiches daily. Now, she’s up to 100 sandwiches, with a complimentary catering business and a sideline supplying local restaurants her selection of three vegan cheese selections.

“We’re bringing our plant-based foods to the masses,” Liu said.

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She will use the $5,000 won in the business plan competition to pay for a shelf-life study and to commission professionally designed packaging for her product.

Eventually, she wants to graduate from her shared commercial kitchen to a full production facility in Binghamton.

“Right now, I am cooking gourmet foods on a George Foreman grill,” she said following the check presentation ceremony at Binghamton City Hall.

In addition to the money from the Binghamton Local Development Corp., as the business plan competition winner, Liu will receive five free hours of accounting and legal assistance, and gratis website design services, among other services.

“We are thankful for this opportunity,” she said.  

 Follow Jeff Platsky on Twitter @JeffPlatsky

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