Monthly Archives: November 2012

In the Trenches…er, Kitchen

Part of the fun of experimenting with new recipes–and tweaking old recipes–is that the end result often surprises you.

The Thanksgiving holiday long-weekend was a busy one for us–not filling baking orders, but still playing around in the kitchen as we prepare for upcoming events (two–yes TWO–vegan holiday cookie exchanges and the Virtually Sisters Pop-Up shops).

Vegan Deluxe Brownies

We had a major success with our Vegan Deluxe Brownies. Taste, texture, and appearance were all top notch, and they were even better in being a gift!

Alas, not everything is an instant winner, and such was the case with our first attempt at vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes. Now, I grew up nomming on the best Red Velvet Cake in recorded history. My grandmother’s RVC was famous, almost mythical, especially since no one else seemed to be able to make it quite as well. Every year for my birthday, that was the cake I requested. (Yes, she made it for me other days, too.) She even put up with my silly (and failed) attempts to convince her to make a BLUE velvet cake. I say all this to explain why any Red Velvet concoction will have a high standard to meet.

Veganizing Red Velvet Cake seems pretty straightforward, but there are a few key challenges. First, buttermilk is a key component, for flavor and texture. You can curdle non-dairy milk with apple cider vinegar pretty easily, but that may not produce an exact substitute. Second, the brilliant red of the cake is pretty easy if you do not mind dumping four ounces of FD&C Reds 40 and 3 into your food. Replicating that using all-natural ingredients, and definitively vegan ingredients at that, is a little trickier.

Okay, a lot trickier.

Since natural red food coloring is made with beet juice, we tried buying some beet juice and using that instead of bottled food coloring (which, being all natural and concentrated, is expensive). The result was not red but a brownish-purplish color. And the taste was just not up to snuff–they were not bad at all, but Grandma would have turned up her nose with (justifiable) scorn.

But we are keeping at it. I called Grandma and got her magic recipe, and we will be veganizing it in our next attempt(s) at the RVCs. As for the RED, the beet juice is still our best option, though we will need to play with the concentration. Brownish-Purple Velvet Cupcakes are just not going to cut it.

Of course, we get to eat even the “failures,” so I guess we can still look at the measuring cup as half full rather than half empty…

– Justin


Unveilings…and Some (Event) News

We have two exciting updates tonight!

1) Thanks to Josie Kinkade and Ed Dingman, we have a brand new, wonderful logo. They put a lot of work into it, and we are grateful for their help–with this and so much else! You will be seeing our logo on cards, signs, and other swag soon(ish).

2) Our list of Products now has a companion page that includes Ingredients and Prices! The recipes are not all finalized, as we constantly strive to improve quality and uniqueness, but this is how things look now. And good news, now that prices are up: We will be ready to start taking special orders by next week! We are still looking for a long-term, inspected kitchen space…though I hope to have some updates on that in the near future too.

3) As you can see on our exciting Events calendar, we will be in Staunton for the Virtually Sisters Pop-Up Holiday Shops on Friday, December 14th, from 1-9 p.m. We will have lots of holiday-inspired treats on sale, so we hope you will venture out to take part in this fun event.

In other news, I made my first prototype of our Black Metal Cüpcakes. They turned out well, though not quite perfect–i.e., not “brutal” enough! We are combining extreme chocolate with (vegan-friendly) Guiness Extra Stout Beer and (vegan-friendly) Jack Daniels Whiskey–since nothing evokes the “dark side” better than dark chocolate and booze. (The combo actually tastes quite good, though it may sound weird at first.)

More to come…

– Justin

“Searching for a Space”

Thanks to Samantha Cole of the Daily News-Record for her story on our story. Republished with permission.

Searching For A Space To Bake

Food Entrepreneurs Encounter Trouble Finding Working Kitchens

November 14, 2012
By Samantha Cole

When Justin and Rosemary Van Kleeck presented their baked goods to the public, they watched the vegan treats disappear from the platters — and it seemed their dream of a bakery had finally finished cooking.

Before they could launch vegan-bakery Sunberry Baking Company into a full operation, however, they faced a major challenge: Finding the right kitchen space for their needs.

Their home kitchen served for prototypes and samplings, but to sell their goods at the Farmers Market or elsewhere, they’d need to be inspected and properly equipped for the task.

For many home-based food entrepreneurs, trying to get their businesses off the ground and onto the plates of hungry Harrisonburg residents, it’s a familiar story.

Main Obstacles

The three biggest limitations to most home kitchens, according to Justin, are a lack of sufficient workspace, equipment and whether or not the space can pass Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspection.

The first two roadblocks are what pushed Valerie and Jonathan Ramsey, who began Fine Flours Gluten-Free Bakery in October 2011, to make the jump from their home kitchen to buying a home with a separate, equipped cooking space.

“We began looking for a kitchen space immediately after getting our business license, and upon finding nothing that worked in town without building an entirely new space somewhere, decided to start baking out of our home,” Valerie recalls.

Olivia Wilson, owner of Ocakes, is facing a dilemma similar to the Ramsey’s former kitchen woes: Working out of her home for a year, she’s finding that, while she loves being a small-business owner, her space is now too small.

With the residential setup of a single oven and refrigerator and little storage space, she’s searching for a workspace that strikes the right balance to meet growing demands.

“I would love to get busier, but it’s very limited,” she says. “I don’t have a commercial setup to produce the volume I need to let my business grow.”

She’s found that many available storefronts are too large, or need too much work or money to renovate.

“It would really help people to start off small-scale and build their business at a pace that works for them, rather than having only one business model available: Lease a storefront and fill it with inventory and hope the customers come in,” Justin says. “That is a lot of upfront commitment and investment, and not every small business owner can afford or sustain that.”

Kitchens Lacking

The small-scale answer, owners say, could be in rented community kitchens. Justin cites Kitchen Thyme in Richmond and The Highland Center in Monterey as examples, but they are the closest in proximity to Harrisonburg’s chefs.

“There are no real models for this type of kitchen space in the Valley, which, I think, has been part of our challenge,” he says, “But I am hoping that we can find someone willing to give it a shot and perhaps make renting kitchen spaces out to food entrepreneurs more common.”

Churches and businesses with inspected, industrial-sized kitchens, he says, could benefit from renting to small bakers.

Wilson sees the local food movement growing not only with consumers, but foodies as well; she believes potential creative entrepreneurs would come to the area to start a business, if it were easier to do so.

“Unfortunately it does cost money, and people need to be willing to go all in and make a commitment,” she says. “It’s a complicated thing, but around here, I’m able to do what I love to do … and it has potential to be a successful business.”

The Ramseys agree. “Having a few local commercial kitchens that were accessible to small businesses would really help people who are just getting started and trying to figure out exactly what they need,” Valerie says; Harrisonburg’s passionate foodies could not only boost the economy, but build community.

Contact Samantha Cole at 574-6274 or

Moving Forward and Standing Still

As paradoxical as this post title sounds, it pretty much describes things for us over the past week or two. Things are moving along, but at the same time no progress is being made.

On the down side, no long-term kitchen spaces have miraculously presented themselves to us yet. We are still in the place of having leads and hopes for their leading somewhere, but nothing has come of them quite yet. The hope is not dead, mind you, but it is still eerily close to the Pauline definition of faith. Funny how that works sometimes…

On the positive side, we have made A LOT of progress with the back-end aspects that are crucial to the front-end of any business–which make a front-end possible, in fact. All of our licenses, permits, registrations, and what not are in place, so we are just about legally ready to sell.

But the majority of my (Justin’s) time has been crunching numbers. I am not an accountant, mind you, nor an Excel wizard, yet I have been having a nerd-worthily gleeful time creating spreadsheet formulae, calculating the weights and costs of individual “units” of ingredients (e.g., 1 cup, 1 teaspoon, etc.) and the total cost of those units when combined into a recipe, then figuring out the cost per item and calculating the final cost with packaging and sales taxes in order to set a price, and then organizing those ingredients by unit weight in descending order for the purposes of proper labeling.

The amount of detail-myopia required simply to sell a cookie is insane. And I am not even filing taxes on anything yet!

Still, the labor is one of love for me, and it all fades when we pull a batch of cookies, muffins, or brownies out of the oven–like I did last night after trying a recipe for a cookie that will, we hope, become a signature item at a local store. We ate them and delighted at critiquing the flavor and texture while munching away, and we shared them to let others do the same.

Yes, I get too much delight watching spreadsheets crunch numbers for me. But the real delight is in making and sharing our vegan treats…though I will try not to be thinking about weights and costs as I munch!

– Justin

Busy–Behind the Scenes

You may be wondering what we have been up to for the past few weeks. Since we are not yet offering products for sale, or out and about with samples of our vegan goodies, it may seem like nothing is happening with Sunberry Baking Company…

But that is far from true!

We have been busy seeking out the best ingredients, testing recipes, pricing products, putting together our business plan, getting our business license and other things to make us “official,” and of course continuing to search for kitchen space. Oh yes, and our product list has been seriously updated!

So things have been quite busy around the Sunberry kitchen, for sure, and everything is coming together!

We hope to have everything in place and be ready to start taking special orders later this month. We appreciate everyone’s support so far and are looking forward to “opening” for business.