'Shh, They’re Vegan’: A local vegan bakery’s story

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Austin Woman Magazine | Daily Texan Staff

What started as an attempt to modify family recipes to accommodate her lactose intolerant daughter led Sascha Biesi to become co-owner of local vegan bakery Skull and Cakebones.

Seven years after opening the bakery, her products are sold at local Austin businesses and large retailers and have become an Austin City Limits Festival favorite and an advocate for mental health.

After selling vegan cupcakes and desserts at her daughter’s school, Biesi’s partner, Yauss Berenji, said she saw an opportunity to expand the pastry stand and develop a business.

Berenji said she noticed a lack of vegan pastries during a visit to Whole Foods and decided to ask a cashier about it.

“I asked if they don’t have anything vegan because nobody wants it or because they don’t have any vegan options,” Berenji said.

The cashier told her they had a huge demand but no vegan options. Shortly after, Biesi and Berenji met with Whole Foods without knowing much about running a company.

“We didn’t know what we were doing, so everything was an unexpected setback,” Biesi said.

Since 2013, Biesi and Berenji have learned the ropes of running a business and have expanded their company. In 2017, they won $25,000 and shelf space at H-E-B in the H‑E‑B Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best Contest. Their products have also been sold in Violet Crown Cinema, Bennu Coffee and Jo’s Coffee, among other Austin businesses.

Along with selling out of various shops, Skull and Cakebones has been a food vendor at ACL since 2014. This past year, the bakery partnered with Beyond Meat to sell plant based burgers to festival goers.

“That was crazy,” Ruby, Biesi’s daughter, said. “It’s mainly because my mom and Yauss were able to sell (their brand) really well, and of course, everything was delicious.”

After solely selling their brand out of other stores, in 2017, the couple was able to open a Skull and Cakebones brick and mortar in Dripping Springs, Texas. They began to expand their menu past pastries to include vegan grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers.

“I feel like (the company’s growth) all flowed,” Ruby said. “The menu is always changing.”

In recent years, Biesi said she has seen the vegan industry grow. Biesi and Berenji both said they’re excited to have a hand in the evolution of the vegan scene.

“Everything has come so far,” Biesi said. “Our tagline is ‘Shh, they’re vegan’ because the word vegan was like a bad word back then, just seven years ago, but now people are looking for that word.”

Aside from selling vegan pastries and food made from locally sourced ingredients, Biesi and Berenji said mental health advocacy is at the core of what Skull and Cakebones does. Last May, the bakery participated in the Depressed Cake Shop event in honor of mental health awareness month. For that month, a portion of their proceeds went to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“I do Depressed Cake Shop because of my own mental health issues,” Biesi said. “I feel like it was a great way to come forward and tell my story so people might see that whatever they’ve got going on, they can still be successful and happy.”

Along with their advocacy, Biesi and Berenji hope to continue to change Austin’s vegan scene.

“Our long term plan is to continue to be able to make a plant based product both affordable and cutting edge,” Berenji said. “Our goal is to make the best product that we can without it tasting different than its traditional counterpart.”