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<![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/ <![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/images/stories/logo.png http://www.veganbaking.net/ http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/anita-shepherd-of-electric-blue <![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking: Anita Shepherd of Electric Blue ]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/anita-shepherd-of-electric-blue Faces of Vegan Baking: Anita Shepherd of Electric BlueAnita Shepherd is the passionately creative vegan baker behind Electric Blue Baking Company. In this month's Faces of Vegan Baking interview, she shares her insights on what it takes to be a professional vegan baker, her main inspirations as well as an exciting new development for Electric Blue! Anita believes in bucking the norm and taking the time to do things right; she makes her own phyllo dough by hand in order to have the highest quality dough. If that's not dedication I don't know what is! {loadposition share}The Faces of Vegan Baking: Anita Shepherd of Electric Blue

Anita Shepherd is the passionately creative vegan baker behind Electric Blue Baking Company. In this month's Faces of Vegan Baking interview, she shares her insights on what it takes to be a professional vegan baker, her main inspirations as well as an exciting new development for Electric Blue! Anita believes in bucking the norm and taking the time to do things right; she makes her own phyllo dough by hand in order to have the highest quality dough. If that's not dedication I don't know what is!


Mattie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
 
Anita: I live in Brooklyn, New York and have my own little baking company called Electric Blue. My menu goes beyond been-there-done-that cupcakes & cookies to offer more unexpected treats, like baked spelt donuts, sticky date rolls, buckwheat crepes, raw vegan tarts & multiseed brioche. I also offer savory options, like quiche, pizzettas, empanadas & phyllo pies.* The aesthetic is decadent, yet health-conscious. Meeting both of those standards can get pretty labor-intensive, but unfortunately, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
I am re-launching Electric Blue as a commercial bakery this month. This means that my baked goods will once again be available in local cafés and shops (my website will have an updated list of retailers next week). I had stopped production in the spring to work two irresistible chef jobs, and to kick-off Smorgasburg.
 
Smorgasburg is the weekly food market put on by Brooklyn Flea, fantastically perched on the Williamsburg waterfront every Saturday from 9am to 6pm. It’s kind of a circus. The opening weekend in June attracted over 10,000 visitors. We were just featured in the NY Times $25 & under dining section, the Wall St Journal, Village Voice, & the NY Magazine cheap eats issue. I spend Thursday and Friday prepping, and all day Saturday working at the booth. Just like the rest of the food world, it is a ton of work with plenty of fun sprinkled in.
 
I’m one of a few vegan vendors, and the only vendor that brings something completely different every Saturday:  two baked specialties, one sweet & one savory. So far, that includes empanadas, donuts, sausage rolls, caramel apples & pizza. I’m considering the slogan; “Always different, always vegan.” One thing I did not anticipate was how important it is to have a “gimmick.” So many of the vendors come with these impressive banners, logos, displays…even uniforms. Smorgasburg has definitely forced me to step up my game. Good food is just half the battle.
 
This week I am doing a collaboration with another vendor called Rob & Anna’s (say it two times fast). They make the most incredibly delicious banana soft serve that contains only frozen bananas, and comes with your choice of amazing homemade sauces and toppings. To celebrate national ice cream month, we have created a vegan brownie sundae with my banana brownies and their soft serve and toppings! At my booth, I will also have spicy vegan sausage rolls.
 
(*I have recently gotten into making homemade phyllo. Despite the extra effort needed to make the dough, it is so much more pliable and easy to work with than the frozen, store-bought kind that always falls apart.)
 
 
Mattie: Please tell us about Electric Blue Baking Company. What was your primary motivation and influence for starting it?
 
Anita: In my free time, I catered parties for friends & baked muffins out of my home kitchen for a local café. In 2007, I had some recipes published in Bon Appetit. That gave me the confidence to quit my desk job and leap into the food world.
 
My first pastry job was working for Pichet Ong at Batch Bakery. I walked in one day and recognized him from the same issue of Bon Appetit I was in, where he was profiled alongside Will Goldfarb and Sam Mason, two other innovative pastry chefs. I handed him my resume over the counter and started gushing about what a fan I was. His reply was “When can you start?”
 
Another influence was Cody Utzman. He has built a small empire here in Brooklyn—including a sandwich shop/bakery, a Mexican street-food restaurant, and a French café. All of his menus are inspired by his travels, by what local ingredients are in season, and the demands of the locals. A good portion of each menu is vegan, and incredibly tasty.  One of the reasons he hired me as a baker was that I could do both traditional and vegan baking. Over time, I started losing interest in non-vegan baking and eventually decided to go fully vegan myself. It seemed natural. It was the kind of food I enjoyed eating most, and that made me feel good physically.
 
I was still baking and catering in my free time, and decided that it only made sense to feed people the same kind of food I wanted to eat. My baking company went vegan about 3 months after I did.
 
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with Neal Harden, my favorite vegan chef. I got to build a pastry menu to compliment his seasonal, vegetable-driven & sometimes raw menu. So that quickly took me from being just a baker to a full-blown pastry chef. For the first time I got to make plated desserts with many components, a big departure from the humble & rustic muffins that gave me my start.
 
My goal is to open a teahouse and vegan bakery. There are so many limitations on what I can make, the way that food is presented, and the message I can get across to customers by selling it to a middleman. Having my own location would open up so many possibilities. But I would continue building the wholesale side of my business. It would be nice for people everywhere to have decadent treats they can enjoy and not feel bad about—both physically and ethically.
 
 
Mattie: What is your favorite product that your bakery sells? Why?
 
Anita: The donuts. They are addictively delicious. I can sit down and eat six of them in a row. But unlike other donuts, I don’t feel gross after snacking because they are baked, very light, & not-too-sweet. They are made with ingredients like organic spelt flour, kubocha squash puree & homemade coconut butter. The flavors can be adapted to the seasons and holidays. In the summer I do one with strawberry rhubarb glaze and shredded coconut, or in the winter, pumpkin chai spice with chocolate drizzle and pistachios.
 
 
Mattie: What else sets your products apart?
 
Anita: Everything I make is soy-free. I overdosed on soy as a newfound vegan. Soy nuggets, burgers, cheese, butter, yogurt, milk and tofu scramble just made the transition from meat & dairy so easy. The truth is that the easy choice was a mindless one. As a result of my habit, I developed an intolerance to it. My body just said “enough” and stopped digesting soy. I would turn into a human balloon and get stabbing pains in my stomach. No amount of digestive aids would help.
 
Since then, I have learned that the secret to being vegan is variety. I also learned to trade many of those processed foods for homemade. Cashew ricotta, coconut butter and macadamia milk are some of my favorites, and are used as ingredients in many of my baked goods. 
 
 
Mattie: What is your favorite part of owning and operating a vegan business?
 
Anita: The clientele!
 
I graduated with a Biology degree and was going to continue onto grad school. After a tour I realized that most of my time would be spent by myself in a lab. I’m one of those people who needs human interaction to survive, and realized it was not for me. One of the reasons I initially got into food was the social aspect of parties and catering. I made food out of love for the people around me. To make them happy.
 
After all the long, hot hours spent baking labor-intensive food for not a lot of money, it’s natural to think “Why am I doing this!? It’s crazy!” But when you see a person enjoy it, all those doubts melt away. When profits are small, the people are what keep me going.
 
I get almost as much amusement from anti-vegans. This past weekend, there was a group of girls who walked by my booth. One of them said “Vegan?! I want BACON!” As loud as she could. Other people will see and smell something I make and excitedly come over to order one. As soon as they see the word “Vegan,” they change their mind and walk away. Some say they’d prefer “the real thing.” My philosophy is that ani-veganism is like homophobia. Those that are the most insecure in their “meathood” are the worst offenders.
 
 
Mattie: What is your favorite kitchen tool?
 
Anita: My turntable. I cannot cook without music. I listen to a lot of 80’s pop, punk and new wave, 70s classic rock, funk, disco and soul, world music, & my Dad’s old jazz albums when I’m up late baking. There is flour all over them! My husband is a musician and  has a band called Navegante. If I’m not up late baking I am probably front & center on the dance floor at one of their shows.
 
 
Mattie: What was the most valuable resource that helped you in starting your bakery?
 
Anita: My mother. She taught me how to make something out of nothing and to never give up. She came to this country to attend college with $4 in her pocket and somehow managed to become a published scientist and community activist who helps immigrant families who start out just like she did. Even though she was initially disappointed that I did not follow in her footsteps & pursue science, she has encouraged me at every crucial step. At 66 years young she is now in her first year of Grad School studying bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Total inspiration!
 
 
Mattie: What was the hardest part of starting your bakery?
 
Anita: The lack of profit in small-scale food production. You have to kiss goodbye to weekly mani-pedis or having any fingernails at all. New clothes. New shoes. Travel. Dinners out. All of my resources go into my business. If you are starting from scratch, like me, you will never make it past the beginning stages if you can’t live simply.
 
 
Mattie: If you had the choice to start your business all over again, what would you do differently and why?
 
Anita: If I could do-over school I would have studied business and not biology. More often, I find myself struggling to negotiate my cut of a sale and not as much analyzing the absorption rate of stomata on my basil leaves. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change anything about the history of Electric Blue. Every mistake is a learning experience.
 
 
Mattie: What advice would you give people who are thinking of starting their own business that caters to vegans and vegetarians?
 
Anita: 1- Think of something you crave on a regular basis that you can’t find anywhere. Chances are, you’re not alone!
 
2- Don’t limit yourself to vegan training. You’ll learn more “out of the box”, creative, innovative cuisine by working for chefs that share your personality traits more than your eating style. Food is like fashion. There are looks, techniques and ingredients that go in and out of style. I feel as though some vegans have trapped themselves in the past by isolating themselves. What I want to do is stay on the forefront of what is going on in the food world, and create my own, vegan interpretation of that for everyone to enjoy.
 
3- Be open-minded. The majority of my customers eat meat. I would not be able to appeal to them if my ego or politics came before my food.
 
 
Mattie: How much time did it take for your business to get from the idea stage to being open for business?
 
Anita: I’m not much of a planner, but I’m learning. Things just happened—in small steps. Vegan baking is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is a very slow-building process. If I waited for my idea to be perfect, to have plans laid out for every brick of my dream bakery, I would still be sitting behind a desk somewhere.
 
When your resources are limited, you just have to kind of dive in and do what you can. I have literally put together menus for food I’ve never made before while typing an email to a customer. I have paid for packaging with pennies and nickels. I created my website overnight with a janky cut-and-paste application that has two layout options and won’t work on a Mac. In the words of Tim Gunn, you just “make it work.” If the end result is something beautiful, you move on to the next round. So far, I’m still in the game.
 
 
Mattie: What is your favorite baking ingredient right now? Why?
 
Anita: Spelt flour. It adds moisture & a nice nutty flavor to baked goods, and has more nutritional value than white flour, which makes it more satisfying. I am pretty hooked on it and put it in nearly everything.
 
 
Mattie: What kind of changes would you like to see in the current vegan baking world?
 
Anita: More diversity. Cupcakes and brownies are covered. I would love to be the first vegan baker to make a St. Honore cake*, but secretly wish someone else will beat me to it. Also, we need to demand better ingredients. There are still vegan bakers out there who use hydrogenated shortening and bleached flour. For me, as a chef, you cannot stand by food that is processed like that. I don’t care how ethical your food may seem. If I feel sick after eating it, where are the ethics in that?
 
*(A crush-worthy French dessert comprised of glazed, custard-filled choux pastry puffs, held together with flavored whipped cream. Sometimes topped with seasonal berries, caramel or nuts.)
 
 
Mattie: How can we find out more about Electric Blue Baking Company?
 
Anita: Go to www.electricbluebaking.com/contact and sign up for my mailing list & visit www.twitter.com/electricbluebk for the latest news on what I’m making and where to get it. But my preferred method is for you to come by Smorgasburg this Saturday and say “Hello!”


Mattie: Thanks so much for taking part in this interview Anita! A St. Honore cake will hopefully be forthcoming!
 
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Thu, 14 Jul 2011 04:09:17 -0400
http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/mary-doyle-of-petite-treats <![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking: Mary Doyle of Petite Treats]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/mary-doyle-of-petite-treats The Faces of Vegan Baking: Mary Doyle of Petite Treats This month Mary Doyle from Petite Treats joins us and shares her thoughts and experiences on being the creative mind behind Petite Treats in Ireland. I was lucky to meet Mary while she was enrolled in Vegan Boot Camp in New York. I think the words "you go girl!" apply here.

Mattie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into vegan baking. {loadposition share}The Faces of Vegan Baking: Mary Doyle of Petite Treats

This month Mary Doyle from Petite Treats joins us and shares her thoughts and experiences on being the creative mind behind Petite Treats in Ireland. I was lucky to meet Mary while she was enrolled in Vegan Boot Camp
in New York. I think the words "you go girl!" apply here.

Mattie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into vegan baking.

Mary: Baking has been my passion for several years.  I was made redundant in 2009 from my teaching job and this spurred me to follow my dreams.  I traveled to NYC to attend ‘Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive’ with Fran Costigan at the ‘Natural Gourmet Institute’.   I returned later that year to New York to work as Fran’s intern and take more classes.   This was an amazing experience and I knew I just ‘had’ to set up something at home in Ireland and Petite Treats was born!


Mattie: Please tell us about Petite Treats. What was your primary motivation and influence for starting it?

Mary: I have been baking for friends and family events for several years- I would find any excuse to bake goodies- especially for themed events!   Many non – vegans are wary of the term ‘vegan’ and I wanted to try to dispel some common misconceptions about vegan baking.  My products are decadent, visually appealing and delicious and you don’t have to sacrifice anything. I knew that if people just tasted my treats that it would not matter whether they were vegan or not. 


Mattie: What is your favorite product that Petite Treats sells? Why?

Mary: HMMM that is a difficult question!  I ADORE my ‘Belgian Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons’ – they have their own fan club by now!


Mattie: What is your favorite part of owning and operating a vegan business?

Mary: I love being my own boss.  I love being able to provide a service for parents of children with allergies who might not be able to have a treat otherwise.  Attention to detail is very important to me and I like being in charge of every aspect from the preparation, baking, frosting, decorating, packaging and delivery!  As many of my customers are not vegan, I am thrilled that they have chosen my products- they just love how they taste which is the best compliment!


Mattie: Did you have prior experience before starting Petite Treats? If so, what kind of experience? If not, what did you do to acquire the knowledge you needed to succeed?

Mary: I traveled to NYC to attend ‘Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive’ with Fran Costigan and also worked as her intern where I learned SO much.  My family and friends have been willing ‘guinea pigs’ for a long time now and they have given me honest feedback while I tested and honed my recipes to perfection. I have also taken a number of Sugarcraft classes to learn professional decorating techniques.  I think that it is important to keep learning as the business grows.


Mattie: What was the most valuable resource that helped you in starting your bakery?

Mary: I would have to say that the encouragement and support that I have gotten from my husband, family and friends has been the most valuable resource. They have helped me to overcome the many fears and uncertainties that come with starting a new business.


Mattie: What was the hardest part of starting your bakery?

Mary: My husband would probably say that the hardest part was all of my ‘blind taste tests’ when I was trying to perfect my recipes!  Not having a set wage coming in every week is a little scary after having a stable job as a teacher.   


Mattie: If you had the choice to start your business all over again, what would you do differently and why?

Mary: I would hire someone else to do all of the paperwork and web design... I just want to bake!


Mattie: What advice would you give people who are thinking of starting their own business that caters to vegans and vegetarians?

Mary: I think that if you have an excellent product people will buy it whether or not they are vegan themselves. It is important to market your product towards everyone and not just vegans.


Mattie: How much time did it take for your business to get from the idea stage to being open for business?

Mary: Having my own vegan baking business was a dream for a few years and I spent a year preparing before being open for business.


Mattie: What is your favorite baking ingredient right now? Why?

Mary: I cannot live without Neilsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract. I am also experimenting with guar gum and agave nectar to create a new frosting!


Mattie: What kind of changes would you like to see in the current vegan baking world?

Mary: I would like to see vegan bakers attempt to attract non vegan customers as well as vegan.  People can be wary of the term ‘vegan’ and unaware that a good vegan product can be every bit as decadent, delicious and creatively decorated (as a traditional one).   


Mattie: How can we find out more about Petite Treats?

Mary: You can telephone me on 087– 8695998 or email to mary@petitetreats.ie or fill in the ‘contact us’ on the website – www.petitetreats.ie   I am also on facebook/petitetreats and twitter @petitetreatsIE


Mattie: Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this interview Mary!

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Wed, 30 Mar 2011 02:09:42 -0400
http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/shannon-michelle-of-cinnaholic <![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking: Shannon Michelle of Cinnaholic]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/shannon-michelle-of-cinnaholic The Faces of Vegan Baking: Shannon Michelle of Cinnaholic This month I was lucky enough to ask Shannon Michelle, of Cinnaholic fame, some questions on the ins and outs of starting and operating her vegan bakery.

Mattie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into vegan baking. {loadposition share}The Faces of Vegan Baking: Shannon Michelle of Cinnaholic

This month I was lucky enough to ask Shannon Michelle, of Cinnaholic fame, some questions on the ins and outs of starting and operating her vegan bakery.

Mattie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into vegan baking.

Shannon: I started dabbling in "traditional" baking in my early 20's at home. When I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan in my late 20's, I spent about a year slowly converting all my recipes into vegan recipes. Most of them were simple substitutes like soy milk in place of regular milk or soy butter in place of real butter. The challenging part was adding new ingredients I wasn't yet familiar with things like egg replacer, xanthan gum and experimenting with different types of flours and sweeteners.


Mattie: Please tell us about Cinnaholic. What was your primary motivation and influence for starting it?

Shannon: I used to bake almost every day for the people at my work, my friends, family and for places I would volunteer at. It got to the point where people would almost expect me to arrive with a handful of treats and some even started making specific requests for birthdays, desserts, etc. Everyone told me I should open a bakery. I smiled at the thought and sort of laughed it off knowing that on the salary I was making at the time, it was likely never going to happen. That's about the time I baked a tray of pumpkin cinnamon rolls for my now brother-in-law. He was so impressed and had such a huge amount of faith in my husband and I, that he offered to give us the start up money to open Cinnaholic.


Mattie: What is your favorite product that Cinnaholic sells? Why?

Shannon: I really like our caramel apple pie roll. It's our basic cinnamon roll smothered in caramel frosting with fresh chopped apples and a buttery spiced brown sugar & oatmeal crumble on top. The caramel is by far my favorite frosting flavor and I love how well the crunchy spiced apple pairs with the warm gooey cinnamon dough.


Mattie: What is your favorite part of owning and operating a vegan business?

Shannon: I love the diversity of the people who come through our store. We have our students, people in the vegan community, Hollywood celebrities, homeless wanderers & our every day average people. It's fun to see everyone in an excited, almost child-like state of mind building and creating their own personal dream rolls. It's nice to see people happy and finding a common ground for those 10 minutes they are in our store.

Shannon: I'm also really stoked on all the organizations we get to help out and contribute too. Most of our donations go to animal rights related causes. I've always been a big supporter of compassionate people who fight for justice and try to make a difference in the world.


Mattie: Did you have prior experience before starting Cinnaholic? If so, what kind of experience? If not, what did you do to acquire the knowledge you needed to succeed?

Shannon: I can't say that I had any 'real' experience other than experimenting in my kitchen, using my friends as guinea pigs and dabbling as a server at a few restaurants in my younger years. Before Cinnaholic I had been focusing my efforts on things like accounting, veterinary medicine, radio broadcasting, music industry studies and real estate. I learned a lot about running a business through miscellaneous skills acquired at my previous jobs (customer service, managing our finances, quality control, etc.) The fact that my husband had his own company helped a lot as well. The rest was learned by reading books and articles, taking a small business course and talking with other local business owners. I'm still learning and I think I always will be.


Mattie: What was the most valuable resource that helped you in starting Cinnaholic?

Shannon: When we first had the idea to start a bakery, we decided to hire someone to oversee our finances and give us insight on things like permits, laws, contracts and whatnot so that we wouldn't end up biting off more than we could chew. We had been referred to an amazing company called Tax Ninja who had previously worked with a family member of ours. After pitching them our idea, he and his wife broke down some numbers and gave us a thumbs up shortly after. We jumped in with both feet and everything has been going according to their calculations thus far. They even do my parents taxes now!

The other person who played a huge role in the beginning was our real estate agent Santino DeRose. We found him through Craigslist after inquiring about a location in SF. For weeks he sent us updated lists of potential locations and for weeks, we tirelessly rejected them. He never gave up, never pushed us into a place that wasn't right for us and even helped mediate the contract for us with our landlord at signing.

Last but definitely not least, our family, friends, media contacts and the vegan community were a HUGE support. Without them Cinnaholic wouldn't exist. They blogged, Facebooked, Tweeted, showed up to events, wrote articles, connected us to others who they thought might be able to help us... they helped push us forward and reassured us that everything was going to turn out awesome on our toughest days.


Mattie: What was the hardest part of starting Cinnaholic?

Shannon: It's a tie between perfecting the recipe (there were countless baking failures, long nights, and tear-filled kitchen destroying sessions in the process) and not knowing what the next step was. Since I had never owned a business before and had no knowledge about specific city regulations, permits, contracts, etc. it was really stressful knowing that there were deadlines coming up that required a lot of money and there were no instructions on how to get the task done. I can't even count how many hours I spent listening to automated phone messages, listening to elevator music on hold or being transferred around to different departments.


Mattie: If you had the choice to start your business all over again, what would you do differently and why?

Shannon: I would have done more thorough research on the estimated cost of individual expenses like payroll, ingredients, bills, services, packaging, etc. and I probably would have taken more time to shop around for the best deals. We learned that lesson the hard way in the beginning unfortunately.


Mattie: What advice would you give people who are thinking of starting their own business that caters to vegans and vegetarians?

Shannon: Support your community and they'll support you. Network! Before we opened we catered a lot of events for free. We wanted to get a feel for what people were looking for in the vegan community, get to know them and try to make a name for ourselves. We met a ton of great people, some who had invaluable resources, simply by attending events and talking with them over a baked good.


Mattie: How much time did it take for your business to get from the idea stage to being open for business?

Shannon: I met my husband in November 2008. We started talking about the idea early 2009. By July 2010, we were up and running! I would say for a good solid year and a half we worked our asses off talking to people and putting all the puzzle pieces together.


Mattie: What is your favorite baking ingredient right now? Why?

Shannon: I'm really stoked on Coconut sugar right now. I haven't experimented with it a whole lot yet but I love coconut anything!


Mattie: What kind of changes would you like to see in the current vegan baking world?

Shannon: More independent styles, new ideas and creative techniques. Your product should be an extension of your creativity. If you're into skulls and daggers rather than the traditional hearts and flowers you might find today at 9 out of 10 pastry shops, then by all means, embrace it!

I'd also like to see more male bakers. We have 3 guys that work at Cinnaholic currently and they are the greatest! There's just something rad about a guy in a flour stained apron who can bake. Ya know?


Mattie:How can we find out more about Cinnaholic?

Shannon: Our storefront location in Berkeley, CA is open Tues-Fri from 8am to 7pm and Sat/Sun from 9am to 7pm.

You can order our products online at www.cinnaholic.com/shop or read more about us in the press section of our website at www.cinnaholic-berkeley.com/press.

You can also stay connected and get updates on our daily specials via Facebook and Twitter or get special deals by signing up for our newsletter.

Mattie: Thanks so much for taking part in this interview Shannon!

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Wed, 23 Feb 2011 19:33:45 -0500
http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/dan-from-liz-lovely <![CDATA[The Faces of Vegan Baking: Dan From Liz Lovely]]> http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/faces-of-vegan-baking/dan-from-liz-lovely Liz LovelyI recently had a cookie at Whole Foods that knocked my socks off. I enjoyed the flavor, the packaging and since I used to own and operate a vegan organic cookie company myself, I was naturally intrigued. Enter Liz Lovely. I had the pleasure of asking Dan from Liz Lovely some questions to find out what makes them tick.

Veganbaking.net: Please describe your business.

Dan: Liz Lovely was founded by Liz and Dan Holtz (front left & right) to bring you cookies with a higher purpose. We call it Baking a Difference™.

We bake gourmet cookies with organic & fair trade ingredients from our 100% vegan cookie bakery in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Unlike most natural food companies these days, we bake everything in our own bakery and ship it directly to people and stores all over the country.
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Veganbaking.net: What was your primary motivation for starting a business that caters to vegans and vegetarians?

Dan: We were both strictly vegan, and couldn’t find what we wanted.  Also, it seemed like awareness was just beginning to spread about vegan and vegetarian.  And we were right, it’s pretty mainstream now.

Veganbaking.net: What is your favorite part of owning and operating a business that caters to a cruelty-free clientele?

Dan: Honestly, the health department goes really easy on us because we don’t have animal products.  Eggs and dairy are the leading source of harmful bacteria in a food production environment.  Not having them makes it pretty easy to keep things safe and clean.  It’s also nice to know that our business is not harming any animals.

Veganbaking.net: What were your primary influences for starting your business?

Dan: We shopped at health food stores, checked out competing products, and tried to imagine something that was both “in the niche” and that would stand out.  We went to interesting stores and checked out packaging for all kinds of products.  Soaps, furniture tags, you name it.  Liz read a lot of Martha Stewart magazines.  Dan read “The Inside Scoop” about Ben and Jerry’s.  We did all kinds of homework.

Veganbaking.net: What is your businesses\' most valuable asset?

Dan: Our incredible staff.

Veganbaking.net: Did you have prior experience before starting your business? If so, what kind of experience? If not, what did you do to acquire the knowledge that you needed to succeed?

Dan: We had small business experience, both working for others and running our own.  But we had no real food experience.  We talked to a lot of people.  Folks that worked at Whole Foods, food business owners, consultants, anyone who would give us some free advice.

Veganbaking.net: What was the most valuable resource that helped you in starting your business?

Dan: Not having enough startup money.  It’s easy to cover up problems with money, it’s not easy to solve them.  Having a tight budget forces you to continue making course corrections and learning hard lessons quickly.

Veganbaking.net: What was the hardest part of starting your business?

Dan: You work incredibly long hours.  Your life becomes second to the business for quite a while, and it’s hard to regain that balance.  We’ve sacrificed a lot of money, fun, and sanity to get Liz Lovely on its feet.

Veganbaking.net: Were your financial startup costs in line with your original estimates?

Dan: That’s not possible.  It always costs more and takes longer than you think.  But it’s important to try and estimate to the best of your ability anyway.

Veganbaking.net: If you had the choice to start your business all over again, what would you do differently?

Dan: We would probably have kept it simpler and smaller.  Maybe opening a retail bakery instead, and grown into some wholesale.  The wider you distribute, the more complex it becomes.  We rarely meet our end-user customers.  Having a retail operation ties you directly to your public, and keeps the business within arms’ reach.  Bigger is not always better.

Veganbaking.net: What advice would you give people who are thinking of starting their own business that caters to vegans and vegetarians?

Dan: Focus on flavor.  It’s easy to remove stuff from a recipe, it’s hard to keep it delicious.  If non-veg people love it, you’ve got a winner.

Veganbaking.net: How much time did it take for your business to get from the idea stage to being open for business?

Dan: About 6 months.  We did a lot of testing, planning, pre-marketing.  There’s no right answer here, but do your homework.

Veganbaking.net: Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Dan: That’s a tough question, based on the current economy.  I hope we’re still doing what we’re doing.  A little bigger, a little more established.  I think that’s what we’re all hoping for right now.  Stability.

Veganbaking.net: Where can we find out more about your business?

Dan: There’s this fancy new thing called the world wide web.  We’re at www.lizlovely.com, stop over!

I'd like to thank Dan for being so kind to answer our questions!

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Thu, 12 Feb 2009 05:39:43 -0500