Jenny Ouellet, owner of imacake Vegan Bakery on Main Street in Amesbury, says she read an interesting theory in a book she picked up: If you love to bake, be the baker. If it’s business you’re interested in, be the business owner. Although she appreciates the sentiment (go for what you love), Ouellet has found purpose in being both.
It’s not easy owning a small business, especially one that serves not one, but two very niche markets: customers with severe food allergies, and those who adhere to a vegan diet. Ouellet runs her business almost entirely alone, with just one other employee who helps with things like decorating baked goods, cashing out customers, and eating the occasional unsold item from the day’s baked-fresh-daily batch.
“It’s hard, but what keeps me going is the kids who come in who are normally extremely limited in what they can eat because of their food allergies. When they visit imacake they get to see a huge case filled from top to bottom with treats and they’re told they can eat anything. I haven’t had a consistent paycheck since February but seeing one kid’s face after hearing that makes it worth it.”
Imacake (I’m – a – cake), which has always been a vegan bakery, hasn’t always focused on allergy-friendly baking. But when they moved from Ouellet’s home kitchen in New Hampshire (formerly known as Hippie Cakes) to Amesbury’s Main Street, families in the area started inquiring about whether Ouellet’s products were peanut and tree nut free. Eager to serve her community, she welcomed the next step in the bakery’s evolution.
At imacake Vegan Bakery you can find peanut-, tree nut-, gluten-, or soy-free products. The baker’s latest challenge is finding a way to accommodate a corn allergy.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with manufacturers, farmers, and food labs to narrow down which ingredients I can use to create corn-free products,” she says.
Ouellet is extremely transparent about what goes into her food (except for the filling in her new cannolis: “that’s a secret,” she jokes) because for some people it can be a life or death situation. Earlier this year a young boy with a severe peanut allergy had a reaction after eating a cookie at imacake. Ouellet immediately announced what happened on social media and warned families with peanut allergies to stay away until test results from a food lab came back.
“People could have been really mad, but they weren’t. Everyone appreciated my honesty. The most important thing was that the child was okay. That’s what it’s always been about for me.”
The young boy made a full recovery, and the results showed no traces of peanuts in the cookies. “It turns out he was allergic to chickpeas and the family never knew,” says Ouellet. (Chickpeas are an ingredient present in the chickpea flour that she uses.)
It was an experience that hit close to home for the baker, who has two kids of her own, daughter and sprinkle-lover Lennon, 6, and son Landon, 15. They both spend a good amount of time at the bakery which is a space for any young person to come hang out, read books, play board games, and take advantage of the bakery’s WiFi.
“It was very deliberate to grow a community space,” says Ouellet.
Imacake frequently collaborates with other businesses on Main Street to host events after normal business hours, which are usually Friday to Sunday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Check their Instagram for the occasional Thursday opening. One Sunday a month the bakery puts on a family-friendly open mic night. This Saturday, November 23, the bakery will host Cookies and Canvas and Saturday, December 14 from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., Santa-lovers can visit the big guy in red for cookies, cocoa, and crafts.
Imacake Vegan Bakery isn’t just a shop for people who are vegan or who have food allergies. It’s a space for anyone who needs a happy place to rest, wants to try something new, or looking to satisfy a killer sweet tooth.
For more information, visit www.imacake.com.