Recently engaged, Mitch Kinna and Diane Yuan have come a long way from experimenting with vegan recipes in their tiny one bedroom apartment. Today, as they sit snuggly side-by-side sharing a white in-ear headphone while conducting their second interview of the day by Zoom, they are grateful to now bake and concoct tasty vegan creations from their shared kitchen space with Commissary Connect.
“It is very central,” says Mitch. “We don’t need too much. Just need prep space, two ovens and a mixer.” It also helps that they live nearby as they spend four to five days a week onsite baking into the wee hours of the morning. According to Diane, “Thursdays we come in at 11pm and bake until 6am Friday morning. We go home for a 2-hour nap and then start deliveries. Saturdays we come in at 4am.” They really don’t mind the hours. “This is a labour of love,” says Mitch. Both vegan, and lovers of good food, they are determined to change people’s idea of what vegan baking should taste like. This past summer marked two years that they started working full time with their joint vegan-baking venture, Flourgirl Baking.
According to Diane, it all started innocently enough. “There were no vegan cinnamon buns at that time and Mitch hadn’t had one in years,” so she suggested, “why don’t I just make one for you?” Mitch was thrilled. “I had been craving a cinnamon bun since we first started living together in the small apartment. Diane was doing some baking on the side and started to play around with recipes that she had found online. Nothing was really hitting it that well yet and then she tweaked a few things and ended up with a tasty cinnamon bun. It was amazing, and I thought people really need this product.”
In that moment, their business was born. “Originally we were going to be Doughboy and Flourgirl,” says Mitch. “But that was an absolute mouthful to say. Flourgirl just seemed to roll off the tongue better.”
They started with their cinnamon bun, which is aptly name “The Sinnabun.” From there they began to expand their product line to include both sweet and savoury buns, all with quirky names like Choccy Biccy and Bun‘za. They enjoyed working on the names together, many of which having a personal reference point for both of them. “Our earlier names came from inside jokes from when we were line cooks at Virtuous Pie,” says Mitch. “A fun little thing that we did for us.”
When asked if there have been any epic fails, they both look at each other and laugh and Diane says, “Oh yes, all the time.” However, the one that stands out is the “Bunlova,” a take on a Pavlova. According to Mitch, “It was not the best. It had a custard base, a berry compote and a vegan meringue. We learned our lesson. We are always developing our products.”
With several successful bun creations now under their belt, they have started to produce their own vegan stuffed pastas. “We both learned how to make pasta in culinary school,” says Mitch. It was something we really enjoyed. It was exciting to learn how to make them vegan.”
The process is going well, but making the pasta is quite labour intensive. “The goal for the future,” says Mitch, “is to move it into larger scale and get into some kind of manufacturing facility so that we can wholesale it to more people and get the cost down.”
In the meantime, they plan to continue to produce the buns themselves and make them available to various coffee shops, retailers and to customers directly through online ordering. “We have been doing them for two years and like the idea of keeping it small,” says Diane. “We like being able to interact with our customers and hand delivering it all. We like the sense of community.”
In fact, that sense of community goes beyond connecting with just their customers. It also includes finding opportunities to collaborate with other local chefs and small business owners.
“Working out of Commissary Connect we meet a lot of people who are in to the same kind of things as us,” says Diane. “Our first collaboration is with Anna from Metate Bakeshop. She is making a vegan cookie for us and we are putting in some of our own pastries. I am making a Chinese inspired BBQ pork bun, which is vegan of course. And Mitch is converting one of his old family recipes for coffee cake.” Together they will offer this as the METATE X FOURGIRL COLLAB and people can order it from their Web site.
Jean Jacques Kabuya (Chef Jacques) is all about good food. He began his career by cooking at small events for friends and family, but as word got out and catering requests increased, he realized that he could turn this into the business he always wanted.
Anita Lopez started Cinco Estrelas, a Portuguese catering company, as a way to spend more time with her son while also generating an income. Her family used to own a restaurant called Cinco Estrelas and it was a big part of her childhood. She wanted to offer the same experience to her son.