Interview with Brianna of Niche Vegan Bakery!
What inspired you to go vegan and to start up Niche?
I was inspired to go vegan by a Youtube video called “Carnism: the Psychology of
Eating Meat,” a lecture by Melanie Joy. For the first time veganism became more than
“those pushy people judging me” to a real alternative. It wasn’t about the torture that is
done to animals, I’d seen that all my life and like many people I just shoved it away and
went on with my life. “Sure it happens, but what can I do?” This lecture opened my
mind to just WHY that happens, how people that love animals can truly disconnect with
their true feelings and history, and choose to participate in something so gruesome as
the meat, dairy and egg industries. It taught me that there IS something we can do, and
also just got me angry at being manipulated by the media and society my whole life into
thinking I didn’t have a choice.
my doughs, would read recipe books like they were novels, watching almost nothing but
the Food Network. I even took a serious pay cut from a unionized dishwashing job to a
nighttime linecook position so that I could learn more about everything food related.
There was no way that changing my lifestyle and living consistently with my conscience
would make me give up the tastes I loved if I had anything to say about it. So I got new
cookbooks, read everything I could about vegan cooking and baking online, and started
was expecting all kinds of forward thinking restaurants and bakeries. Surely on the Island I’d find the supportive culture I craved, and a panoply of options. I did find some
of that, but nobody was selling what I thought would be nobrainers: croissants with vegan butter, donuts, stuff that was decadent and beautifully crafted and, to my mind, a
piece of cake (so to speak)! So I explored the market, sounded out the community and
got started filling the niche.
What has the experience of starting and running a business been like?
Learning to run a business has definitely been quite the curve. I’m often anxious in
social situations, but I found that I actually loved front-of-house customer service when it was MY products I was sharing, and actual people and connections that I was experiencing. I’ve also been surprised to find I can enjoy taking care of administrative details; learning to be a good boss, both of myself and others; and even getting up at an ungodly hour to make sure everything can be as fresh as possible for our customers.
The real challenge for me is balancing the need to make a profitable, sustainable
business, my passion for creating and sharing great new tastes, and my idealism about
changing the world with good food. To me, Niche is so much more than just a way to
make money, it’s activism; a way of opening mainstream eyes to what vegan food
really can be.
How has being vegan been a benefit or made things harder in terms of getting the
word out, getting people to try the product?
I think sharing samples is a great asset for vegan products, because the average
person will not look twice at a “vegan” anything, but will almost always take a free treat.
I truly believe that the vast majority of people think not about the abstract, but about the
practical. How many times have we heard the argument “But bacon is so tasty!”? If
that’s really what is holding people back then THAT is something we should be working
on, because it can be done! And if we can create and share plant-based treats that
really pass the mainstream taste-test, why would anybody ever eat the ‘real’ stuff?
“Taste first; talk second!” is the way to go here I believe. Just one great taste experience
can open people up to a whole new universe of plant-based food options. And I just love
it when someone tells me our treats have changed their perspective on vegan food. For
me, sharing great vegan tastes, from puff pastry to perogies, is one of the very best
forms of vegan activism for a better world for animals, our environment and ourselves.
This sample-sharing approach seems to be catching on too! One of our vegan
customers purchased several platters of our “mini’s” to share with her co-workers
at Christmas parties in non-vegan workplaces and actually got emails raving about them!
And I’m sure we can all imagine how different holiday and social gatherings would be if
instead of feeling either pitied, shamed or excommunicated, the vegan at the dinner
table brought “the best sausage rolls they’ve ever had.” (And that’s an actual quote from
multiple meat eaters). Or a great chocolate birthday cake, or a bunch of puff pastry hors
d’herve (which is what I did for my own family’s Christmas gathering). I believe each
and every time that people choose plant-based over the default is one more bit of
compassion and awareness in the world and the more people enjoy the food, the more
of those choices there will be!
So being vegan helps when sharing the food with other vegans, with health conscious
people, and with those who have dairy and egg dietary restrictions. But as for the
general public? There are so many misconceptions about who we are and what we eat
that I believe we need to share the tastes first , if we’re going to have any kind of a
sensible conversation about how we can all help transform our world!
Friends, family, coworkers, casual passersby, or whatever! For me sharing the food is
a real way to be inclusive and relate to carnists on THEIR level, encouraging small
steps, engaging in a spectrum of compassion and showing them that it doesn’t have to
be a huge sacrifice to eat in a way that is better for their bodies, the animals, and our
What you dream/see for the future of Niche?
I honestly don’t know how all this is going to turn out! At a practical level, I don’t plan to
go anywhere; Niche will always be unapologetically vegan, and we’ll always be reaching
for more impact on the carnist mainstream. And, I believe, the dream of connecting with
others through food to help create a better world will always be a big part of my life.
I see 2016 as the pivotal year for the Niche project. I’ve been amazed at just how many
mainstream outlets are open to the idea of providing vegan options, and by the end of
the summer I hope to triple the number of retail outlets where people can purchase our
treats. Also, because we believe great plant-based food ought to be enjoyed by all including
those who are just plain hungry we’ve begun to connect with community groups and emergency food services around the city to explore ways to provide vegan options to their clients, and connect people from all walks of life who want to have some fun learning how to explore, cook, and share the plant-based cuisine.
My BIG hope though is that this taste sharing type of social activism will really catch on
in Victoria’s vegan community over the next year not just for Niche products but
as a way of actually beginning to transform the general public’s food consumption patterns. I
know it may sound a bit grandiose for a ‘naive young chef’ like me to be saying it but I
truly do believe we really can make a difference in our community, if we just start getting
great plant-based treats out there into the carnist mainstream where people can try
them and really get excited about them!
So I guess that’s MY big dream, not just for Niche, but for our community as a whole a broadly based, inclusive, sustainable and self-stoking cycle of sharing food and ideas, that will ultimately lead to more compassion both for animals, and for humans on each side of the dichotomy.
Have you had any strange or funny experiences with Niche, so far?
There was a thing that happened in the very early days when Niche was still operating
as an underground kitchen and I was still selling out of my home. Two repeat customers
arrived at my door at the same time, both of them carnists.
Both customers were wanting sausage rolls the first because they were “the best I’ve ever had,” and the other because these sausage rolls were one of the few foods he and his vegan girlfriend could really enjoy eating together. For some reason (I can’t remember why) fresh baked sausage rolls were in short supply that day and the two guys ended up in a playful little ‘fisticuffs battle’ over who would get how many of the last available sausage rolls.
I didn’t think all that much about it at the time; we all just had a good laugh! But I’ve thought a lot about it since.
I mean, two carnists fighting over who gets the last vegan sausage roll?!
Thank you Brianna!
Make sure to tell everyone you know about Niche. For more info, to place orders, and more you can visit their website here.