By Kate Harris and Keith Tharp
Deb Simmons is the creative force behind one of Seacoast New Hampshire’s newest plant based businesses, Cake. Vegan Bakery. Her unique flavor combinations are bursts of amazing in your mouth. Think Coconut Caramel Pecan, Dark and Stormy (dark rum, ginger beer and lime), Blueberry Waffle, and Carrot Coconut. But what really stands out are the stunning designs that go far beyond any non-vegan counterparts. Her cakes and cupcakes have quickly become regional favorites, regardless of dietary preferences. She has tackled everything from coconut allergies, to paleo, and accepts every challenge as an opportunity to enthusiastically experiment. Learn some challenges, inspiration and trending tidbits in the vegan cake industry as we sit down with Deb!
What was your journey to baking?
Baking is something I’ve always done, and always loved. I was given a lot of creative freedom in the kitchen when I was young with the opportunity to experiment and play and be completely self taught. It’s always something I’ve loved doing for friends and family and then grew into something bigger.
Why did you decide to go vegan with the bakery?
I was vegan for about 15 years and developed the way I bake during that time. When I first went vegan, I found that it was really hard to find sweet treats that I really liked. Things that weren’t just a slice of vanilla cake. I felt there was a need for this in the area.
You set yourself apart from even a traditional bakery through your designs and creativity.
Growing up I hated cake. I thought it was the worst dessert. I’d never had cake I liked. It was such a boring choice. Always, “do you want chocolate or vanilla?” So in doing this, it was to make the things I always wanted that never existed. It’s been super fun to play with flavors and ingredients and create things.
Why did you become vegan?
When I initially did it, it was more about a sustainability approach. And finding a way to have a lower impact. At the time, I had developed a dairy allergy as well. It has changed throughout, but has always been about sustainability. And being more conscious about what I buy, what I consume and what I put out there.
Where are you now in your journey?
I don’t call myself a vegan anymore; I feel like the word is pretty loaded. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less attached to the label as I was as a twenty-something. It comes more from a place of listening to my body and what it needs now. There are so many more choices and information out there now. I operate from a place of what’s good for my body and the planet rather than based on a word or an idea.
The word “vegan” has been a loaded one, but you chose to include it in your business name. How do you feel like your audience relates to it?
I choose to put “vegan” in the name of my business after a long deliberation. I felt like it was important to identify what I was doing in a concise way. I wasn’t into using the trendier buzzwords like “plant based”. Half of my clientele identifies as vegan or plant based, but it hasn’t seemed to turn anyone away. I don’t think people are turned off by the word “vegan” anymore.
How do you tackle other dietary restrictions?
The prevalence of allergies and dietary restrictions is a large part of my demographic, for sure. It’s another one of those areas in the market when 1) there are choices and 2) things taste really good. It’s been a fun challenge for me to take all these restrictions and still make something that’s really beautiful and really delicious.
What kind of feedback do you get from the non-vegans?
Folks that aren’t vegan, generally come with shock and amazement that something can still taste that good, and maybe better than the traditional cake they’re used to. It’s been a fun opportunity to change perceptions.
Any good stories from non vegan clients?
It’s really been nothing but positive feedback, which is really awesome. It’s always along the same line of, “Wow, I didn’t know it could taste like this. This is vegan?” I’ve had clients show up and ask for a sharpie so they could cross “vegan” off the box. They’d bring it to their family, who wouldn’t know. And those are always funny stories of “When I told my family after, they were shocked!”
You are entering this business after years of being a manager at a vegetarian restaurant. Has that been helpful?
I’ve been living in this area for ten years, working in the service industry. When I first moved here it was a really great way to meet people. And that was when I started baking: for customers and co-workers. It was a great way to get through a long shift. Most recently I’m coming from three years managing Green Elephant, which is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. The transition from there to this was very natural. It introduced me to an entirely different demographic in the Seacoast. Amazing people that have become clients. I was able to build the bakery slowly while still working there. The restaurant has been really helpful in getting me started, offering advice and answering questions.
Are you solely a cake baker?
Even though my name is Cake, I do other things. Whether for weddings or other events. I do cookies, whoopie pies. Any treat can be veganized!
Your biggest question, I’m sure, is “what do you use instead of eggs?”
Yes! There are different ways of substituting eggs, but for the recipes I create, it’s just a different recipe. I don’t use substitutes or replacers, unless it’s a predominantly egg-based recipe.
How do you envision your business changing as you grow?
It’s been a great first year of developing what it looks like. As I move forward I want to figure out a way to ship cakes, and have more walk in hours over just pop up hours.
What’s your favorite flavor?
Chocolate Caramel & Coconut. It’s the Samoa Cake. But some of the seasonal flavors have been really popular: Dirty Chai, Espresso Buttercream, and anything with apples.
Any trends you’re seeing?
I’m finding people are asking for more colorful cakes, and darker richer deeper colors which are really fun to play with. Plant based eating in general is becoming more trendy and more people are paying attention to where their food and ingredients are coming from.
Do you have any tips for wedding couples?
Some of the biggest advice I’d give to couples would be to make choices for you. People get really hung up on what their guests are going to enjoy most. And it’s great to take that into account, but ultimately you should order what you like. It’s for you. It’s your party. Your day. Everyone else will enjoy it too.
How can someone order through you?
To order a cake, you can go to http://www.cakeveganbakery.com and fill out the form. And then we’ll set up a tasting!
Kate & Keith are wedding and event photographers creating a work/life balance around sustainability and the outdoors. Both vegan, they are committed towards zero-waste initiatives and founded a non-profit (Sustainable Seacoast) in their home area to aid restaurants and events in eliminating single use plastics. Their passports show Southern Maine as home but are often found at family bases in New Jersey, Oahu, and Mount Desert Island, Maine. Loving to travel, they drive their Lobster Van (Promaster conversion) across the country for weddings, stashing their tiny Lagotto Romagnolo (dog) between camera bags and a Nutribullet, and using Happy Cow to explore vegan eateries along the way. They can easily be bribed with coconut milk cappuccinos. Read Kate and Keith’s articles