Vegan East Heads West
Sheila and Reid Nelson discuss the expansion of Vegan East into minneapolis.
by Luke Hanlon
Sheila Nelson hasn't had an opportunity to rest since opening Vegan East's first location in February. That won't be changing anytime soon, as Vegan East makes its way to their second home in Minneapolis this summer.
The all-vegan bakery opened its first storefront in February in White Bear Lake, and now will position itself in the heart of Minneapolis for easier access to many of their customers across the Twin Cities.
“We have a lot of customers that come to White Bear Lake from cities like Chaska or Prior Lake, so moving closer to them, plus moving into the center of the city, was an easy decision for us,” Reid Nelson said.
The move to the city comes less than two years after Vegan East officially debuted at the 2016 Twin Cities Veg Fest. Their booth of cupcakes sold out in a few hours during both days of the event, and the popularity of their products has grown ever since. The business was launched as an in-home bakery, taking strictly online orders that were made in the Nelson’s house in St. Paul. Eventually, the demand reached a point where one oven, refrigerator and freezer wouldn’t be enough, prompting the move to White Bear Lake.
The opening of a store front in Minneapolis will expand Vegan East’s reach to new customers, whether they are committed vegans or have a curious sweet tooth. While the company expands and continues to grow in popularity, it will continue to stay true to its core values: Animal Empathy, Consistent Quality and Community Engagement.
“With our growth we hope to find new ways to engage the community and promote veganism to those who otherwise would have no interest in living as a vegan,” Nelson said.
I sat down with Sheila and Reid Nelson to discuss the growth of Vegan East and what to expect with their new Minneapolis location.
Luke: Did this being a former vegan restaurant factor at all into your decision?
Reid: Not really. It certainly didn’t hurt anything, though. We love the neighborhood and think it will be a great spot for a lot of customers on the west side of the metro. The new owners of the building have been fantastic to work with and we are just super pumped to be coming west.
Luke: What will be different about the Minneapolis space as opposed to your White Bear Lake location?
Sheila: We hope to have more breakfast and lunch items. We want to have this be more of a spot to sit and eat as opposed to just a grab-and-go bakery. That being said, grab-and-go will definitely be a part of the equation.
Luke: Why so quick to add a second location?
Sheila: The demand was there. In addition, an expansion into Minneapolis was always part of the plan. The opportunity came sooner than we expected, but we weren't about to turn it down.
Luke: You've mentioned previously that neither of you have any food industry experience. What has been the biggest lesson learned so far?
Reid: We have an outstanding team in White Bear Lake. Without them, Sheila and I would have gone into hiding in mid-February. In all honesty though, we owe so much to them.
Sheila: We are also going to take this opening a lot slower. We rushed to open in White Bear for really no reason at all. We are going to be more prepared this time.
Luke: Any new additions to the menu?
Sheila: Yes, we are going to continue to experiment with bread and add several lunch items, potentially a breakfast item or two.
Luke: How about the atmosphere. What is your ideal vibe?
Reid: I'm stuck on this one because all the rules in the book state that you shouldn't shove veganism down people's throat. It's not effective. With that in mind, we want to be over the top friendly and unassuming. People should feel good when they walk into our store. If they happen to leave knowing they left a piece of someone off their plate, it's a major bonus for everyone.
Luke: Sheila, You went from in-home baker to leading a team of bakers. What has that been like?
Sheila: I'm learning every day. Since I'm not formally trained on either baking or management I'm always asking for feedback from my team. To be honest, I've learned a lot from them also. We've all made mistakes but have a rule that we have to learn from them and improve. So far it's working.
Luke: What has changed since you opened in February?
Sheila: Quite a bit, actually. We stopped doing custom orders because we couldn't keep up with the demand. We've hired some new team members so we hope to bring them [custom orders] back in the next few months. We had to remove some things from our menu because they slowed the kitchen down to a crawl. We are also short on space so some of the products we just didn't have room to make. On the other side of things, we've added several items to our menu recently like biscuits and quiche.
Luke: You ran out of product during your grand opening. Is that a good feeling?
Reid: It's a horrible feeling. When you see your supply running down and the line is still out the door, it's brutal. We learned a lot that day. We'll be open for a month in Minneapolis before we hold our grand opening.
Vegan East will open their second location at 2409 Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis this summer. Stay tuned to veganeast.com for more opening details.
Portrait courtesy of Pash and Dapper