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Cake Bandit: Duluth’s Vegan Bakery

Melissa Story - Photo by Lissa Maki

Melissa Story – Photo by Lissa Maki

Some Twin Ports residents might be surprised to discover Duluth is home to a vegan microbakery. Cake Bandit has been serving up tasty alternatives to traditional baked goods since 2016.

Melissa Story is the woman behind the city’s only exclusively vegan bakery. Originally from Shell Lake, Wis., she is self-taught. She’s had a passion for baking since she was 8-years-old — inspired by her talented aunts, who would craft the family wedding cakes.

About a decade ago, Story met her current partner, who was a longtime vegan. She was intrigued when she learned he hadn’t eaten a brownie or cupcake in 12 years. Seeing this as a challenge, she began to experiment by baking without eggs and dairy products.

Story started with Duncan Hines baking mixes that didn’t contain milk powder and progressed from there. At the time, there weren’t many good substitutions for baking mainstays like eggs, cream and butter. But armed with creativity and persistence, she managed to improvise and find ways to make tantalizing baked goods sans animal products.

She even started to fool the skeptical. A wedding cake Story created for her sister’s wedding was vegan, but nobody ever knew it.

Cake Bandit goodies

Besides vegan goodies, Story specializes in baking that’s gluten and nut free.

“I find huge joy in providing baked goods to people who can’t have them,” she said, and noted that many of her special orders are from people with allergies to nuts or dairy.

Story came up with the concept for a vegan bakery about five years ago. She and partner Chad Moyer moved to Duluth from Spooner shortly after that. At first she felt daunted by the number of existing bakeries in the Twin Ports, but learning few of them carry vegan options gave her hope.

She started baking out of her own kitchen and selling at farmers markets and craft sales. Initially, she wondered if people’s negative perceptions of vegan baked goods would hurt sales. “I played around with the idea of not telling people it was a vegan bakery,” she said.

Her ultimate decision to be unapologetically vegan has been well received. Cake Bandit hasn’t had to advertise and has had many customers learn about the bakery by word of mouth.

After sampling her wares, Duluth Folk School Founder Bryan French recruited Story to work as the vegan and gluten-free baker at the school’s newly opened Dovetail Cafe.

“She does a great job of baking, and of educating us on how to prepare delicious gluten-free baked goods,” French said in an email. “We’re happy and proud to have such a talented vegan and gluten-free baker in our midst!”

For Dovetail, Story bakes scones and muffins daily and produces a host of rotating treats like tarts and mini bundt cakes. For Christmas and Hanukkah, she’s planning an array of special goodies, including eggnog cheesecake (made with Tofutti cream cheese, but Story swears you can’t tell the difference).

Cake Bandit goodiesThough Story works full time at Dovetail and has children, she still finds time to fill special orders on the side. Moyer helps and has played a huge part in Cake Bandit’s success, according to Story.

Story’s baking and recipe development has evolved a lot in recent years. Some of that she credits to the rise in veganism and proliferation of new ingredients that serve as better substitutions. Items like flax milk, oat milk and aquafaba (the thick liquid created when cooking chickpeas or similar legumes) have helped elevate the quality of vegan baked goods.

The Internet has helped too. “If I want to make something new, I’ll Google it to find some recipes,” said Story. “If I can’t find a recipe, I’m even more inspired to do it,” she says.

Some of Story’s most popular vegan items are her lemon curd cupcakes and an updated version of ginger crinkle cookies, based on her grandmother’s recipe. She has a “vegan vintage” baking cookbook in the works, based on an old binder her grandma put together with recipes clipped from different locations, which Story intends to “veganize.”

Customers also look forward to some new offerings from Cake Bandit that are currently in development, including vegan croissants and doughnuts. Eventually, Story intends to find a brick-and-mortar location and plans to open her own bakery.

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