Much like a devoted scientist, Dripping Springs business owner Sascha Biesi took great care in mixing soy milk with pureed beets over a large mixer.
The resulting concoction was a blood-red mixture that looked more movie studio than bakery. Throw that into some white frosting, however, and out came a confectionary pink marvel, free of food coloring dyes.
Such is the path Biesi has chosen ever since she and her partner, Yauss Barenji, first opened Skull and Cakebones cafe and bakery in Austin years ago.
But for Biesi, what began as a way to create vegan and organic meals for her daughter has grown into much more.
On Aug. 11, Biesi and Berenji were named as the grand prize winners for the 2017 H-E-B Quest for Texas Best promotion with their product, Mocha Marmalade, which is a cake in a cup.
The success is validating for the two, who aim to prove vegan cuisine may be a state of mind, but it doesn’t have to taste bad.
Origins for success
The path toward success began after Biesi gave birth to daughter and realized she suffered from severe eczema. A change in her diet – eliminating dairy – cleared up the problem.
The issue surfaced again when her daughter, Ruby, started eating solid foods. Biesi found out Ruby was allergic to eggs.
At that point Biesi knew she had to make a change. She had to go vegan.
The problem, however, was finding food that was palatable. Much of the cuisine centered on ratatouille and vegetable soup.
“The first cook book I bought was disgusting,” Biesi said. “I didn’t like anything in it.”
Instead, Biesi turned to recipes she knew well – items her family had eaten over generations. Items such as Texas sheet cake and corn pone, all without eggs, butter or crisco.
“It was always my thing,” Biesi said. “When I cooked from vegan cook books, they always tasted vegan.”
Biesi continued baking vegan from then on. The items she made never had milk or dairy, and often she sent them with her daughter to school.
But the items then caught the eye of Berenji’s mother, who is diabetic. She loved Biesi’s creations, especially her cupcakes, that she advocated for her and Berenji to team up and start up a business.
Berenji, who’s known Biesi for 20-plus years, said she was initially hesitant, as she remembered the long hours her father put into restaurants he owned.
Eventually, Berenji’s mother gave them a deal they couldn’t pass up. She offered to give them the initial capital to start up, no strings attached.
“Like any mother, they insist enough and you give in and do it,” Berenji said. “She made us a deal we couldn’t refuse.”
Busy in the business
Starting up the business was a challenge for the two, who often found themselves working out of different kitchens in the Austin area.
The business began with cupcakes. Soon the two found their niche in wholesaling their product to grocery stores. Their cupcakes eventually reached events such as the Austin City Limits music festival and Fun, Fun, Fun fest. Berenji said the business churned out “thousands and thousands of cupcakes per week.”
The desire to expand, however, was necessary for Biesi, who knew she had to do more than cupcakes to show off the business. She said she started to experiment with other recipes and ideas.
Those ideas took off, which led the two to create a Kickstarter crowd funding site for a possible food truck.
Luck struck the duo late last year when a friend guided them to a business along Highway 290 in Dripping Springs.
Several months later, Skull and Cakebones found a a commercial kitchen and made it their home.
Support from the community
Since opening their doors, Biesi said it’s been “fun” educating area residents on the different ways to get protein. She said her products are all “meat-eater tested and approved.”
The community at-large has also been supportive as well, as it provides an alternative option not found in many places.
But Berenji said the business tries its best to not boast the fact they are vegan.
“This is a huge food town. From Austin, to Wimberley to Kyle and Dripping Springs, there are so many food choices,” Berenji said. “We don’t have to go beyond that to get what we need.”
Earlier this year, the two sought to test their product by entering the H-E-B Quest for Texas Best Contest.
Out of 600 entries, Skull and Cakebones were one out of 25 finalists that presented their items to judges.
After presenting their item, which was a nervewracking experience, the two were chosen as the grand prize winners.
What they got was a $25,000 check and product placement on H-E-B shelves. It also provided validation that their venture has been worthwhile.
“It’s so cool because every time they say, Skull and Cakebones from Dripping Springs, it makes me really proud,” Biesi said. “Even though we were born in Austin, this is where we were meant to be.”