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Being a vegan, while decidedly easier in recent years, is still a very hard lifestyle to follow when dining out. Being in the heart of beef country—Dripping Springs, Texas—might make it even more difficult. Add a potentially fatal nut allergy on top of it, and Yelp reviewer Kate S. had just about given up on eating out.
Then she found Skull & Cakebones, a bakery and market not far from her home. Not only did the food taste great, but the ingredient lists were very clear, and the staff knew how to handle her allergy.
“I was just so excited to first know that their employees were knowledgeable and given the tools that they needed to address nut allergies,” Kate said. “And I’ve worked in the restaurant industry. I’ve seen people not really take it seriously. And I am an anaphylactic. I was excited to find a place where I could get a dairy-free option that wouldn’t kill me. I also have a list of things I wanna try on their menu that I wouldn’t normally eat.”
Skull & Cakebones co-owners Sascha Biesi and Yauss Berenji pay very close attention to dietary needs and ingredients. Their now 20-year-old daughter developed serious allergies early in her life, and that led Sascha to experiment and develop allergen-friendly recipes that taste great. She firmly believes that food should be a delicious experience, even if the ingredients are limited. And her staff has to be armed with information about those ingredients for customers like Kate.
“At Skull & Cakebones, we see a lot of people who have different allergies. It’s really important for that front-facing person to know [what we are feeding you] because the customer expects that… our mission is that [if] we won’t feed it to our kids, we won’t feed it to you. We have to really know what it is that we’re feeding you, and that goes for our staff as well,” Sasha said.
Beyond incorporating themselves into their business with their vegan lifestyle, it was important to both Sascha and Yauss to provide a safe and approachable space for customers. Kate picked up on that safe haven vibe immediately, even though the messaging is subtle.
“It feels like going to a friend’s house. When you walk in, you have that sense of relief of [it] being a safe space—[it feels that way] even just over the internet. So it really made me feel firstly, like I wanted to support them, and also like I had a safe space,” she said.
For both Sascha and Yauss, mental health and LGBTQIA+ issues are very personal, and they’re dedicated to sharing those experiences with their customers like Kate.
“For me, it’s really important to raise awareness for mental health concerns as someone who has suffered lifelong with mental health concerns myself. I believe that in telling my story, it’s paving the way for other people to tell their stories,” Sascha shared.
One of her ways of sharing her experience was through a “Depressed Cake Shop” pop-up experience. All of the baked goods were gray on the outside, with a rainbow of color on the inside.
“The struggle is real, and the stigma is real, and I wanna be a part of the change in the stigma of mental health. I want Skull & Cakebones to be a platform where people are surprised by the fact that they can walk into a bakery and talk about how they’re feeling.”
Yauss agreed. “It’s important for people to know because there is so much shame attached to mental health issues. And I think through doing the Depressed Cake Shop and raising awareness for mental health, we really did create that safe space where people just kind of show up to have lunch, and before you know it, you’ve had a 30-minute conversation with them, and everybody feels better. We want to be that space, and I think by just being honestly who we are, we’ve created that space.”
Check out these other tips from Skull & Cakebones:
- Knowledge is power for your whole team. In the case of Skull & Cakebones, as both a vegan and allergy-friendly establishment, the entire staff has to know exactly what’s in each product and be educated on allergies and veganism.
- Negative reviews might not be what they seem. A seemingly negative review was actually a positive for Skull & Cakebones, so be sure to take them beyond just face value.
- Partnering in life and work is hard. Be aware of you and your partner’s strengths—and weaknesses—before going into business together.
- Your business’s brand and your personal issues can intertwine, if done correctly. Yauss and Sascha use causes close to their heart to build their brand as well as benefit their community.
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