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Mary Beth King of Sweet Peace Bakery

Meet Mary Beth King of Sweet Peace Bakery, which offers vegan baked goods at coffee shops, eateries and other venues around Cincinnati.

How did you start your business?
I went vegan eight years ago, and the thing I love the most in this world is dessert. As a vegan, it was virtually impossible to find a good one, so one of my friends bought me a vegan cookbook. It was a Godsend, but it was also my arch nemesis. You can’t just bake one cookie.

I started taking cookies to work and to potlucks because I thought being a fat vegan would be kind of ironic. I started the bakery because people loved everything I made and said it didn’t taste vegan.

Then, I met Dan Korman, the owner of Park + Vine, and he said, “Have a bake sale here.” So, I named the bakery, bought my domain and had my bake sale. I had no idea what I was doing, but we sold out.

How did you grow?
Eventually, Dan said, “I want to carry your product.” That was the beginning, and Sweet Peace Bakery has slowly taken off all around the city. Coffee Emporium found us, for example, after I donated baked goods to Know Theatre (I’m a social justice kind of person and a friend was in a play there). Instantly, I was baking three times as much as before.

What have you learned along the way?
The biggest lessons are humility. Sometimes you mess up, but that doesn’t mean you should quit. It’s easy to take things personally—say, if a baked good doesn’t turn out or if the plastic wrapper broke—but it’s OK. Refund the money, replace the item; it’s all going to be OK.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
When I first started, Grateful Grahams was also starting. The owner and I were both one-woman shows. Our first year, we shared every table we could—we had no idea if or when we’d sell anything. Partnering with Dan of Park + Vine as an established owner in my niche market was helpful, too.

I really did everything. I found SCORE—free business counseling by retired executives—and even went to a couple Bad Girls Ventures events.

I learned about SpringBoard about two years into my business, and the classes helped me find focus and develop my business plan. SpringBoard also made me realize that if I ever want to not have two jobs, I have to figure out what my cost per product is. That’s where you break from hobby to entrepreneur.

What's your most popular item?
The Betterfinger. I call it the gateway drug to veganism. It’s a gluten-free chocolate peanut butter crunch bar. The middle part is peanut butter with cornflakes for crunch and chocolate layered on either side of it. People always ask for it. My regular and pumpkin cinnamon rolls are popular.

Is it hard to find vegan customers?
We’re a vegan bakery, but the majority of my customer base is not vegan; they just like a great baked good. I have plenty of non-vegans who regularly order cakes from me because they really like the quality of our baked goods.

Interview by Robin Donovan

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