If you haven’t heard of The Vegan Cakery, it’s time to get yourself down to Café Mbriki in Leicester and try a delicious vegan cupcake or peanut millionaire’s shortbread (my personal favorite).
Michelle Orme is the brains behind The Vegan Cakery, and she is determined to prove that vegan cakes don’t have to be boring – that not only can they compete with their traditional counterparts, but also surpass them in flavor. In addition to offering veganized versions of different cakes and pastries, she also recently took it upon herself to veganize everything from the Great British Bake Off – and the results really speak for themselves.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle recently at the vegan tasting evening at 34 Windsor Street, and here she explains a bit more about her story and her inspiration behind starting The Vegan Cakery.
How long have you been vegan?
Actually strict Vegan about 10 years – and I really wish I’d have done it sooner! Vegetarian from 14/15 years old… so roughly 27 years.
What was your inspiration for starting the Vegan Cakery?
I first thought of establishing The Vegan Cakery about two and a half years ago with the main driving force being to raise money for, and awareness of, a variety of wonderful animal-friendly charities. After spending a lot of time developing my own recipes – I’ve always been adamant if I was going to do this I wanted all of my products to be original and not from other people’s recipes – we took all of the correct steps one at a time, such as environmental health checks, obtaining the correct insurance cover and applying for Vegan Society trademarks etc.
To begin with, I only ever thought I’d sell one or two cakes per week at best. I’ve been absolutely amazed how popular The Vegan Cakery brand has become and how widespread my fantastic customer base is. We despatch cakes across the UK and we have loyal customers living abroad who regularly order cakes for friends and family members living here. Some even take cakes abroad when visiting loved ones which is a real compliment.
Aside from the desire to promote animal charities and sanctuaries, and raising as much as possible for them (I don’t take a wage from the business), the other main passion behind the ‘Cakery is to take vegan cakes mainstream. For far too long, vegans have been required, almost expected, to settle for second, third or even fourth best and that’s ludicrous. Vegan food, when made correctly with the right level of understanding and passion, is as good – no, better – than anything else. Vegans, in the main, don’t just want to live on nut roast and brownies!
We’ve been able to establish a wide and varied cross-section of customers, from all walks of life, whether that be fully committed vegans or so-called ‘hardcore carnivores’! (What does that mean anyway? Humans aren’t carnivores so why people say that really doesn’t make any sense!)
Customers tell me over and over again The Vegan Cakery’s products are as good as any which use animal/dairy ingredients, therefore there is no barrier to non-vegans eating them. They regularly sell to vegans and non-vegans alike where we’re stocked – in a blind taste test nobody would be able to tell the difference. I actually like to say anything from The Vegan Cakery is better than anything ‘regular’ as the products are cruelty-free and that’s so important.
Marc and I are both vegans purely because of the horrors of animal abuse and exploitation. We’re unbelievably passionate about trying to make a difference, I think we’re even more passionate than we might have been about the issue as we were both brought up in families which consume animal products. We both wish we had made the change to veganism sooner in our lives, although the way the internet has opened everything up to people now it’s clear to see the tide is changing and there really is a landslide of opinion now going the way of veganism which is fantastic to see.
You are a big advocate of animal charities and donate all profits to them – why is this important to you?
It’s more than just profit to be honest, I donate from the total take not just any profit made – so before the cost of ingredients, postage, packaging, insurance, tax etc are taken into account. This often means I donate more than would be considered profit. Some people may not understand, but I really feel The Vegan Cakery and the charity work through that is my purpose in life. Up until starting out on this path, I didn’t realise I didn’t know what my purpose was!
How do you choose the ‘Charity of the Month’?
One of the first things I wanted to do when setting up The Vegan Cakery was to raise as much as possible for a wide variety of charities, with a main focus on one charity which could be promoted on our website, Facebook and Twitter – this became ‘Charity of the Month’ although donations are not limited solely to the featured charity in each given month.
I do like to feature many smaller charities and sanctuaries which a lot of people haven’t heard of, there are so many kind souls out there sacrificing a huge amount to help animals, but I also feature larger charitable organisations too.
With that in mind, we’ve chosen to feature The Vegan Society as ‘Charity of the Month’ for November as it neatly ties-in with its 70th Anniversary, plus there’s a fantastic link with founder Donald Watson – obviously he established the ‘Society in Leicester and we’re based in a village about eight miles from the city.
Do you think veganism is becoming more popular in Leicester?
Certainly! Cafés such as Café Mbriki, on Carts Lane in the city, have embraced vegan food. As far as I’m aware, it was the first mainstream eatery in Leicester to stock vegan cakes when Maggie, the owner, opted to give The Vegan Cakery a trial. There are more mainstream places bringing out designated vegan menus, and chains which are highlighting vegan options, so that tells its own story. It’s certainly easier to go out and be able to eat a vegan meal now in and around Leicester than when I became vegan.
What advice would you give to someone transitioning to a vegan diet?
Try it, it really isn’t hard and especially in this day and age. With so much information at your fingertips with smart phones, tablets etc there’s absolutely nothing to stop anyone from trying a vegan diet and it isn’t anywhere near as ‘challenging’ as some may have been led to believe. Once you’ve started on the path, you see new things and adapt your ways more and more and compassion and empathy grows hand-in-hand with that. Who wouldn’t want to have more compassion? There are so many health benefits too.
Any big plans for the future?
If we could do more with The Vegan Cakery we would, but there are only so many hours in the day and taking on any staff would mean less money for charity which I wouldn’t be happy with. I am the sole baker, and I also do all of the packaging (for both hand delivery and postal), invoicing, purchasing, website, social media etc. Marc has his own PR business, which is a seven day-a-week job like The Vegan Cakery, but helps out with deliveries and phone calls when he has the time. I don’t know what I’d do without him! We both work extreme hours, but we feel very lucky to be able to do this – it truly is a team effort. One of my main ‘pushes’ in the near future will be my Lemon V’urd…it’s vegan curd but under compositional laws nobody is allowed to refer to a vegan version as ‘curd’ as it doesn’t contain eggs and dairy. I took the step to register V’urd as a national trademark so the intention is to try and take that product to a wider audience…as soon as we have time!
Finally, what are your best sellers, and more importantly, which treats are your favorites?
It really depends on the time of year to be honest and I have such a large product list most customers like to try something new each time they purchase. But saying that, the most frequently re-purchased product would probably be the ‘Big Boost’ Cupcakes.
Favorites to actually eat ourselves are things like Chelsea Buns, Doughnuts and Mince Pies! Although it’s not the prettiest product, Chocolate & Coconut slice is a real favourite here at the moment 🙂
Visit The Vegan Cakery website