Online vegan desserts? How does that happen?
In the case of Pasadena’s Yvonne Ardestani, creating vegan desserts capped off a personal journey. Ardestani’s ongoing vegan adventure began with major lifestyle changes for her health. Beginning with a blog, Yvonne’s interests evolved into a mini-vegan empire with a growing product line of baked goods sold at YvonnesVeganKitchen.com and shipped to customers nationwide.
Her cakes, donuts, cookies and vegan cheeses are also sold at nearly 50 retail outlets in Los Angeles and Orange counties. She operates out of a production kitchen on N. Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena and just moved to Pasadena’s Linda Vista neighborhood from downtown L.A. this year, just prior to the pandemic lockdown.
For those unfamiliar with vegan baking, no animal-based byproducts are used. Butter is replaced by coconut oil, coconut butter or coconut cream. Egg substitutes are flax meal, baking soda, vinegar or applesauce. Coconut milk, oat milk and other plant-based milks stand in for the bovine variety. Meanwhile, nuts, particularly cashews, often form the basis for vegan cheese.
The youngest child in a first-generation Filipino family of six, Ardestani grew up in San Diego and attended UC Santa Cruz. According to her parents’ wishes, she studied finance and accounting. “I didn’t have a passion for accounting or finance, but I was always drawn to food and eating out at restaurants that were highly rated,” Ardestani says. “I became a food snob.”
What’s more, she adds, “I wanted to do what I was passionate about.” So in 2009, Ardestani enrolled at the since-shuttered Pasadena campus of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She opted for the accelerated track of the regular culinary program and at the same time launched her “My Eclectic Kitchen” blog.
Hungering for more, Ardestani approached one of her local idols, chef Suzanne Goin, and began interning at Lucques, Goin’s celebrated former restaurant in L.A. When Goin opened Tavern in Brentwood, Ardestani was offered a position in pastry, where she found her elusive passion. Her tenure at Tavern included dessert prep for a major fundraising dinner for former President Barack Obama, as well as high-profile entertainment industry award parties.
When Ardestani’s father passed away, she began to question her culinary path. “My dad died of a heart attack and I’m making butter cream…”
Offered an opportunity to work as a private chef for clients seeking a low-calorie, highly nutritious and tasty diet, she began consulting with L.A.-based fitness trainer and “self-care coach” Anna Price to develop meals that met dietary goals without compromising her clients’ demanding tastes.
That coincided with her discovery of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder’s The Beauty Detox Solution (Harlequin Books; 2011). “Her book was a game changer for me,” Ardestani says. “Overnight I became a vegan, plant-based eater. I discovered Instagram and the hashtag #vegan and started developing recipes.” Followers of Snyder’s Detox Facebook group began following Ardestani’s posts and her fan base began to grow.
Ardestani’s quest to monetize her passion inspired her to join a family friend in launching a vegan recipe app, Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen ($3.99) in 2016. The app was so popular it soon hit the top trending lists in food and cooking. Through the app and Instagram, “I gained an international audience.”
Shortly after the app launched, Nuda Juice & Wellness Shop in San Pedro approached Yvonne about supplying savory vegan items at the café. Her app’s recipe for vegan cheese and crackers became her first retail product, “and people loved it,” she says. Nuda Juice “became my testing ground for selling products,” she continues. Two years ago, Ardestani expanded her business with biodegradable packaging and a shipping deal with FedEx, and now it’s her online business that’s thriving.
Initially, Yvonne closed the business entirely for the first month after lockdown, but she soon grew restless and rallied her staff of eight to resume operations. The first new online product offered during lockdown was a do-it-yourself vegan cookie kit. The initial run of 100 units sold out in two hours. With online sales and more than 75,000 loyal Instagram followers, the pandemic has provided an unlikely boon to the business. “It’s been hard to keep up with the demand,” she says.
If you are a vegan with a sweet tooth and don’t know about Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen by now…you’re welcome! Cakes start at $47 and run to $86 for a Confetti Birthday Cake.
Various combos of vegan cheese and crackers run from $33 to $125 for a full gift basket. Fresh berries and jams can be added to any of the cakes for a nominal surcharge. A dozen pink donuts are $39 or get a three-month subscription of six chocolate-covered donuts for $131.82 (plus $12 for shipping the first box). Smaller quantities are also available for local delivery and contactless pick-up at the Kitchen’s Pasadena location, 1190 N. Fair Oaks Ave., from 9 a.m. to noon, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Yvonne’s future plans include growing the wholesale business. “I know it’s a weird time to do that now,” she says, “but I do think there’s a demand for good vegan gluten-free treats.”
Really, no arguments! How can we invest?
Ultimately, for Yvonne Ardestani, the task is simple, “I want to be of service to people and to make them smile. We’re in the business of making people smile.”
Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen is located at 1190 N. Fair Oaks, Pasadena. Call (310) 626-9625 or visit yvonnesvegankitchen.com.