Here’s a great interview with Allison Rivers Samson. Owner and founder of Allison’s Gourmet. It’s a vegan online bakery that can be found by going to allisonsgourmet.com.
How did you decide to go vegetarian and later vegan (and when did it happen)?
I went vegetarian in 1989, mostly as a response to the ill health and obesity I saw in my family. Though I was vegetarian, I leaned toward vegan food and yet didn’t have the support to go all the way with it. In 1997, I finally declared myself vegan, for my health as well as a desire to divorce myself from the horrors of the industries that treat animals as commodities and process precious beings into “products.”
Tell us about your love for sweets?
My assistant, Tessa, says that I’m a taster not a devourer, which is true. I’m also a savorer and a saver. I have loved sweets since I was a child and as my food choices have shifted towards whole, plant-based premium-quality fare, so my taste in sweets has matured from Sweet-Tarts and Skittles, to rich dark chocolate and luscious wheat-free brownies.
How did you start making your own sweet treats?
Even before I was completely vegan I started experimenting with vegan baking, enjoying it as a fun and a delicious challenge. I was single at the time and my kitchen quickly filled up with sweets so I shared my experiments with co-workers, receiving unanimous rave reviews and the oft-said, “Allison, these are so good, you ought to sell them!” A suggestion I laughed off for a while, until it became very clear that this was my passion and my path.
How did that develop into a business?
Back in 1985, before I was veg, I worked for and eventually owned a small mail-order business distributing a fancy (though non-vegan) chocolate brand in Seattle. So I owned my first company at 17. As I transitioned to a healthier diet, it became clear that the product was not a great fit for me and I closed it after a few years. That experience turned me on to the mail-order business model. Fast forward a few years… I’m working in a very stressful position at the largest natural foods distributor on the West coast. Each day I wake up wanting to bake something, and getting in the kitchen is my
immediate goal upon returning home. I quickly realized that baking was relaxing and desirable and I decided to eliminate the nine-to-five interruption and attend cooking school and immediately switched careers.
Although I was trained as a personal chef, at first I did a few catering gigs for friends and former co-workers, and sold sweets to local coffee shops and high-end restaurants. I lived on a small island near Seattle (Vashon Island) that was accessible only by ferry. The transportation took significant time and funds and I remembered my love for mail-order. And then… eureka! How about if the post office were my delivery service? This was 1997 and the web was very new. Always on the cutting edge, I launched the very first online vegan baked goods company, called Allison’s Cookies at that time, and offered exclusively (you guessed it)
cookies since they shipped so well. From there I expanded my product line to include brownies, and eventually grew into the name Allison’s Gourmet when I started offering fudge, confections, chocolates, etc.
Tell us about Allison’s Gourmet.
We’re an online vegan, organic and fair-trade bakery, confectionery and chocolaterie, offering monthly clubs and elegant gifts for all occasions. We’re a conscientious company, and we care about people, the planet, and all of its inhabitants. Therefore, Allison’s Gourmet is founded on the following practices and beliefs:
- We offer vegan desserts that taste fantastic!
- We seek out and use only the finest organic, fair-trade, vegan ingredients.
- We use minimally processed ingredients, avoiding any that require a chemistry degree to understand.
- We use post-consumer recycled paper and packaging whenever possible.
- We value optimal health as priceless. Delicious, high-quality food costs more, and is completely worth it!
How is Allison’s Gourmet different from other vegan bakeries?
We value quality and compassion above all else. There is nothing “fast food” about our products. Everything we produce is made by hand with the very best ingredients and professional techniques and quickly shipped to you lovingly and optimally fresh. We are confident of our commitment to these four pillars: vegan, organic, fair-trade and incredible taste that even omnivores will swoon over. This is why we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
For people who haven’t had any of your sweets, what are the must-haves?
That’s a little like asking me to choose my favorite child (I have only one human child, so no one can ever actually ask me
that!). The truth is that everything we offer originated as a personal craving and is a response to gratify that desire. My favorites change often and right now I reach for our vegan peanut butter cups and peppermint créme patties as well as our caramels. Many of our offerings are the first of their kind including our popular and celebrated vegan fudge and toffee (especially the chocolate covered variety). Since it’s one of my all-time favorite tastes and is so hard to come by in the vegan world, we offer several goodies with caramel/butterscotch flavors including Butterscotch Pecan fudge, caramels and cookies!
Have you ever had a storefront or considered it? Why or why not?
Although I’ve never had a storefront, I have considered it. The main reason we’re an exclusively online company is geography. As you may have noticed from my previous mention of living on a remote island, I prefer to live rurally. The storefront vegan businesses that thrive are often located in larger cities with enough like-minded people to support them. In our small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, there is a fairly large population of alternative folks and one raw restaurant that is doing well, though it’s not 100% vegan. For the foreseeable future, we’re staying online, which is just the way we like it.
You have been in the vegan business for a little while, but it’s just within the last couple years that it seems to have started to finally become more mainstream. What do you think about where the business has come and what do you think the future holds?
I have been honored to be part of the vegan movement and contribute to its growth these last 15 years. Having been dedicated to this lifestyle, it’s validating to finally have more and more people acknowledge not only its existence, but also its importance. I am thrilled to have grown from a tiny vegan cookie company to a moderately-sized vegan bakery, confectionery and chocolaterie, all the while holding onto my core delectable, ethical, compassionate values and I plan to continue serving delicious vegan sweets that taste far better than mainstream versions all while doing good in the world.
The most recent exciting turn of events for me has been writing my award-winning column “Veganize It!” for VegNews Magazine since 2007, which has given me a chance to branch out and share my love for savory vegan comfort food, as well as sweets.
Thanks to Allison for a great, inspiring interview!
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