Erin McKenna: Finding Success with a Vegan Bakery Business

| August 10, 2009 | 3 Comments

Sometimes, good things can come from bad news. While working in the fashion business, Erin McKenna was diagnosed as allergic to wheat and dairies. Not wanting to totally give up on sugar and sweets, she then tried baking and trying recipes for mouthwatering deserts that she can tolerate. Knowing that she has a winning lineup of goodies convinced her to open her vegan bakery, BabyCakes NYC. 

Today, Erin has a successful niche bakery business. She has appeared several times on various cooking shows such as Martha Stewart and the Food Network channel. She has also written a book containing her vegan dessert recipes.

We interviewed Erin and what makes BabyCakes NYC special:

Erin McKennna, Founder, BabyCakes NYC (Photo by Clarke Tolton)

Erin McKennna, Founder, BabyCakes NYC (Photo by Clarke Tolton)

What inspired you to start a vegan bakery?

I was inspired to open a bakery that would be a safe haven for vegans as well as those with wheat allergies and sugar sensitivities because I had multiple food limitations and could never fiind a decent tasting desert that covered all my restrictions. I thought it would be great to open a place where others with similar issues could come and choose freely from bakery cases packed with delicious baked goods. BabyCakes was my dream bakery, so I built it.

You previously worked as a fashion assistant at Budget Living. Why did you decide to open a bakery instead? What was the most challenging part of the transition?

I thought I was destined to be in fashion because I had a knack for it but my heart wasn’t happy in it–I was actually pretty depressed for the first time in my life. I used to go home and bake myself to happiness. The transition wasn’t hard at all-I was so happy when I left to do what I love. I was broke, but very happy.

What makes BabyCakes NYC different from other bakeries out there? What makes your brand different?

My brand is different from other bakeries out there because I have infused it with myself. I’ve poured every bit of my personality into it, rather then making it another cookie-cutter cutesy bakery. I think that a lot of people want to go into a bakery and have fun. I don’t really drink very often and before the bakery was a twinkle in my eye, I’d always want to go to a bakery to party on the weekends. Other people wanted to go to clubs, I wanted to go party with cupcakes.

What was the toughest part of starting the business?

Money and maintaining confidence. Money because it’s very hard to raise capital but if you want it bad enough you will find a way to raise it. There is so much money in this world floating around, you just have to find a way to grab it. Confidence because even though you like what you’re selling it doesn’t mean everyone else will too. You just have to hang on to the belief that you have a good product and that people will love it as much as you do.

You’ve appeared in the Martha Stewart and Food Network shows and have been featured in a number of magazines such as Gourmet and Vanity Fair. What do you think has been the most effective marketing strategy for the business?

Word of mouth by far. People love to introduce others to their favorite spot for food and you listen to raves from friends more then you would pay attention to an article. Every time I want to go out to dinner somewhere new I ask a friend what their favorite spot is and what to order. The internet with all it’s blogs and review sites is the most powerful resource above and beyond anything else.

You will be opening a store in Los Angeles. What are your strategies for growing the business?

I am opening a store in Los Angeles in Fall. Can’t give away my growth strategies–but I can say I am using every part of my brain to do it.

How is your web site complementing your bakeries? How do you market online?

The website is essential to the bakery. All our information and personality lives there and it gives people who haven’t been here a good feeling for the bakery. I don’t market online…I think the blogs take care of that efficiently.

What is the most challenging part of growing the business?

Knowing what the next move should be to grow safely and successfully.

How likely are you to consider franchising as a step to grow the business? What advice can you give startup foodies and bakers thinking of starting their own businesses?

At this point, franchising is out of the question. My advise is to stay strong and don’t lose sight of what inspired you in the first place. Don’t go to others for ideas–let it be from you. It has to be authentic.

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Category: Startup Stories

About the Author ()

Isabel Isidro is the editor of She also writes for and Learning from Big Boys .

Comments (3)

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  1. Shai says:

    I went to school for holistic health coaching and although that is going okay, I am interested in starting an organic bakery. I have a son with autism and I don’t give him wheat or gluten products. He loves dairy so I have a hard time with that one. I have thought about doing a vegan cupcakery to afford people a tasty desert without all of the harmful sugar and calories.

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  2. Desiree says:

    I have been thinking about this business as well. Two years ago I was diagnosed with wheat and gluten allergies along with dairy and soy and to top it off, Im a vegetarian! So you can believe the hard times I had trying to adjust to this diet with no real alternatives. Thankfully stores are slowly catching onto the gluten free idea, but I still have a hard time finding a perfect coffee shop or bakery with items that fit all of my food restrictions. I’ve always wanted to own my own coffee shop and bakery. Most of my free time is spent cooking and baking, but I wonder how Erin started her baking career? I’ve followed gluten free recipes and changed things here and there but I’m definitely no where near confident enough to bake for the public 🙂

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