Just a year ago, Gina Allen had no plans on launching her own vegan bakery. In fact, she began baking just so she could have tasty vegan options at home. Then her family and friends started tasting and asking for more and more of her sweet offerings.
Fast forward to a few pop-up shops and special orders, and now she’s running Lee and Louise Confections — her own on-demand bake shop of goods to satisfy your sweet tooth without any dairy or meat by-products.
The MSR chatted it up with Allen at a local pop-up to find out more about the inspiration behind her business.
MSR: Tell us about your business. What are some of your offerings?
Gina Allen: I make vegan cupcakes and other treats. We have red velvet and cookies and cream cupcakes. And cookie dough, which can be eaten raw, which is fine since there are no eggs, and banana bread with a cinnamon sugar crunch topping.
MSR: What’s your specialty?
GA: My go-to and what I think I’m strongest at is my chocolate cake with the cookies and cream frosting. That is what really made me start to think I’m onto something.
MSR: So what inspired you to launch?
GA: I am in the process of becoming vegan, and it has not been an entirely easy process for me. I grew up on a very meat-and-potatoes heavy diet and didn’t know what vegan meant for most of my life. I didn’t know about tofu and those types of things. So in my trying to become vegan, making sure that I had cake and other desserts was a big piece.
When I would try some other vegan things from the grocery store, it just wouldn’t always be what I’d want. They would be dry, wouldn’t taste good, or the texture would be off. So I’m working to make goods that are on par with conventional dessert items.
MSR: Why vegan?
GA: If I’m going to say that I love animals, then I need to make efforts to not support their suffering. I’m currently not 100 percent vegan. I’ve gone through periods where I was, and I am still aspiring to be that. I think that it’s important to recognize the journey and to also — if I have learned about something — spread that.
For example, a few of the customers today that got cupcakes were, like, “I’ve never had a vegan cupcake,” or they were skeptical, like, “Oh, it’s vegan.” And so for them to try it and see these can taste good, that can open up the other options for veganism, not just vegan desserts. It’s like, “I had that one vegan cupcake one time and it was really good. Let me try this vegan meal and see how it goes.”
MSR: How did you come up with the name?
GA: The name came from my grandma. Her middle name is Lee, and my partner’s grandma is Louise. Both of our grandmas cooked and used that as a way to spread love and to nurture their families. That’s something that I identify with and like to do in my daily life and something that I’m trying to do in the business.
MSR: What has been your biggest challenge in launching your business?
GA: Baking in bulk is a very different process than just, you know, a batch of cupcakes! And, having the storage space and the startup costs to make sure I get the things that I needed to make [my set-up] look nice and presentable. Just the time and the energy it takes to bake and all the little costs that kind of add up to get the business going.
MSR: What is your ultimate goal?
GA: We live in North Minneapolis in Jordan, and there’s not a ton of vegan options right around in the community. I didn’t know about veganism. I didn’t know about just a different way, a different style of eating as something real.
So, it is important to me to bring that and help expose the community to things that I know I didn’t know about growing up. That’s one of my goals. Another goal would be to own a storefront one day or a restaurant.
MSR: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to launch this business?
GA: (laughing) I’m still just taking all the advice in myself. But what I would advise is to just go for it, because I would’ve just kept putting it off and saying, “Oh, everything’s not right.” Also, if there are people who are around you that are supportive, that is key. I was very fortunate that a very good friend was here, and my partner and her mom, they all supported me. All those things were key in me getting to this event for the past few days.
Find Lee and Louise Confections at bit.ly/leeandlouise. MSR readers can enjoy a 15 percent discount on orders through March 31, 2019.
Stephenetta Harmon is a Black beauty editor, curator, and digital media and communications expert who builds platforms to celebrate the power, impact, and business of Black beauty. She is the former EIC for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (2018-19) and current host of MSR Forefront, a digital roundtable series. She is the founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide, the premier directory dedicated to Black-owned hair and beauty businesses. Find her at stephenetta.com.