Vegan Small-Business Interview + GIVEAWAY: The Vegan Potter

One of the most under-rated aspects of being an ethical vegan is the sense of community it offers. I love meeting other vegans and gushing about the best new dairy-free ice cream on the market or swapping recipe tips. I especially love meeting vegans who bring their passion for animals and a cruelty-free lifestyle to work with them. Even better? Meeting folks who create a business that centers around and celebrates being vegan.  And I love connecting vegan consumers with businesses that they can feel good about supporting.

So today I bring you the first in what (I hope!) will be an ongoing series, where I’ll chat with vegan small-business owners to share their stories and help bring a little publicity to their good work. I’m starting with the Vegan Potter, a fabulous Connecticut-based small business run by Lyndsay Meiklem.

I first learned about the Vegan Potter from my mom, who encountered Lyndsay and her pottery pieces at New England VegFest earlier this year. Mom enthusiastically shared what she’d learned about this fantastic business and gifted me with a small appetizer plate (see left!), which now has pride of place on my counter. With any luck, you, too, can own a vegan-emblazoned piece of original pottery!

Read on for my interview with Lyndsay, and don’t miss the giveaway at the end.

Interview with Lyndsay from the Vegan Potter

Which came first: the veganism or the pottery?
The veganism came before the pottery.

I went vegetarian at age 17 when I was still in high school. Vegan at age 19 in my second year of college, and I started taking pottery classes at age 20.

Why did you become vegan?
I became a vegetarian after researching the food industry and animal rights for an opinion paper in a high school English class. Two years later I came home from college and worked at a health food store. The owner was well-versed in many health and wellness issues (keep in mind, this was in 1994!). She encouraged me to read a book called Diet for a New America by John Robbins, son of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire. Each chapter focused on an animal and recounted in a very factual and non-inflammatory manner how our food industry processes the animals for human consumption. When I got to the chapter about how milk and eggs are produced, I felt like a total hypocrite for claiming that my reasons for being a vegetarian were motivated by animal rights, because the conditions that laying hens and milking cows endure are equally as deplorable as those in which animals are raised for slaughter. When I went back to college that year, I went vegan.

The Vegan Potter: spoon rest

Your spoon deserves a beautiful resting spot.

How did you get started as a potter?
I studied English and Creative Writing with a minor in Art History at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. I always loved the arts and had taken many metalsmithing and photography classes in high school but actually dropped a ceramics class in my senior year because I didn’t like getting my hands dirty.

During my final year of college, paint-your-own pottery studios were just starting to pop up and I went to one and painted a plate with a friend. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to learn how to actually MAKE the plate. I sought out a summer pottery course at another Montreal college but the enrollment was too low and they cancelled the class before it began. Shortly after, I discovered an art gallery owner who had a third floor studio space in an industrial building and had a small pottery studio in the back of the gallery to hold “classes.”

I signed up with my boyfriend at the time, and in the first class it was very clear this was not a teaching studio. The teacher gave us a quick demonstration and then left us on our own. I found out a few weeks later that the ‘teachers’ simply got use of the studio in exchange for teaching a class. During the pottery session my relationship ended, and as a result I spent ALL my free time in the clay studio, which was open most nights and weekends for practice. I watched and I practiced and after just a few weeks I remember calling my parents in Connecticut and having a conversation with my dad in which I recalled something he always told me: “Find what you LOVE to do and then find a way to make a living doing it.” I knew I had found what I love.

The Vegan Potter: cheese board

Cheese board and knife, complete with vegan cheese.

I continued to practice at that Montreal studio for another year when I had a thought: to open a pottery-teaching studio back in my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut. I tested my skills and endurance and spent the next two summers teaching 7- to 15-year-olds at a residential camp in southern Maine. I got a TON of practice teaching and honed my own throwing skills over the next two summers and then moved back to CT and spent the next year making pottery in my parents’ barn, which had no running water. I lugged 5-gallon pails and used a wood stove for heat and I threw pots on a partially motorized kick wheel.

In 2002 my dad rented me a small building next to his furniture craftsman shop, and after a few weeks of renovations and using a good portion of my savings buying 10 brand new pottery wheels and a kiln, I began my business. I’ve been teaching ever since, and in 2006 I purchased a property with two buildings on it and renovated one into a 2,500 square foot art studio, gift shop, and office. In the years following I renovated the building next door into a yoga and wellness studio and we’ve been thriving ever since.

How do you describe the type of pottery you create?
Functional one-of-a-kind stoneware made with love.

What does a day in the life of a full-time potter look like? I imagine it varies greatly depending on where you are in the process for each piece!
You’re right! Each day is very different, but in the past 15 years since starting my studio, a TON of time has been devoted to running the business! For the first 10 years I had my wheel in the main studio space where classes were held and over 40 students a week filtered in and out. When I added on to my building and created a 12 x 12 dedicated studio space for my own private workspace, things began to change. I was able to spend more time diving back into my craft and have fallen completely back in love!

The Vegan Potter: sloth life tumbler

Fabulous “sloth life” tumblers in lots of colors.

The making cycle often goes like this: Throwing pots on Tuesdays, trimming and finishing Tuesday’s pots on Wednesday/Thursday, and sometimes finding a few hours of hand-building time. Saturdays are often glazing days. I also teach four adult pottery classes each week, and loading and unloading kilns eats up at least a few hours each week. When I’m in the studio, I work 12- to 13-hour days. When I’m not in the studio, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do the next time I’m in the studio! Coming into the holiday season I’m in high production mode, and some weeks are devoted to packing and readying for weekend shows and events like veg fests!

If you visited the home of someone who’d purchased some of your pieces, where would you hope to see them?
Typically my work lives in the kitchen or dining room! I absolutely love seeing my work in use, filled with home-cooked food.

As you create new styles and lines, what inspires you?
I’m equally inspired by nature and function. I’m obsessed with drinking vessels and most recently began experimenting with a new clay body. I thought I was going to use it on its own but realized I could combine my white and brown clay and it gave me the opportunity to play with techniques that leave wonderful swirls and organic lines throughout the pieces. This encouraged me to want to leave the exterior of the pieces as raw clay. The finished work reminds me of wood grain AND swirled ice cream all at the same time.

When I have time to play and vary from tight deadlines or set projects, I’m able generate new forms or ideas for pieces. The medium has held my attention because I’m constantly learning and honing my skills making new forms or playing with new colors.

What motivates you to include overtly vegan messaging in your work? I’m thinking both of your pieces that include the word “vegan” and your social media accounts, which show lots of vegan love. Do you consider your work a form of activism?
I’ve always made a few pieces here and there that said “vegan” or “ahimsa,” a yogic word for “non-violence,” but in recent years I’ve had many more people ask me about my food choices and I’ve run a few vegan-eating info programs at my studio. Last winter I had a revelation when I discovered a holiday gift bazaar that was ONLY for VEGAN vendors — Compassionfest in Hamden, CT. I created a few pieces of pottery that said “vegan” and they were the first things to sell. I realized I had found my tribe and I got much more serious about the Vegans Unite collection. Since then, it has grown to include bowls, bread plates, mugs, tumblers, ornaments, and magnet sets.

The Vegan Potter: vegan bowls

No one will think your ice cream is dairy-based when you eat it from this bowl!

I’ve always used my social media accounts to discuss my food choices in non-inflammatory ways by simply posting pics of delicious food, which are often enough to spark discussions with folks about veganism. In the past 20 years, I have seen a tremendous amount of change here in the Northeast. 20 years ago, the only brand of milk alternative was soymilk in tetra packs and it tasted terrible. Health food stores were far and few between and bulk food was just making an appearance. There were NO meat replacements or protein sources outside of tofu (which you certainly couldn’t find in a mainstream grocery store). We have come a really long way in the past two decades BUT I have also noticed a trend for new vegans or vegan curious to lean heavily on the vast array of “fake” meat and protein replacements that are so abundant now in mainstream stores.

When you’re not eating delicious vegan food or creating beautiful pieces, how do you spend your time?
I love taking day trips with my husband to explore New England towns and seek out vegan restaurants. I can also be found taking photos of the local cover band my husband plays in.

And finally, do you have any companion animals? Who are they?
Living in a very tiny studio apartment we don’t have any pets but our dream is to build an earth berm home and we have big plans for several companion animals when that happens!

The Vegan Potter: garlic keeper

The perfect vessel for your garlic.

Five quick-fire questions

Favorite vegan indulgence?
Any vegan dessert! I’m a sugar-holic!

Favorite restaurant?
Crazy Burger in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Although they are not exclusively vegan, they have an extensive vegan section on their menu and they catered our wedding!

Favorite vacation spot?
Vacation? What’s that? When you do what you love, there is little time for time away!

Favorite kitchen tool?
Vitamix for smoothies, and I love my microplane for zesting and grinding fresh nutmeg and herbs.

Favorite animal?
I can’t think of any animal I don’t love! Someday I’d love to meet elephants!

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Find the Vegan Potter!

Main site // Facebook // Instagram //

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GIVEAWAY TIME!

Vegan mug giveaway by the Vegan Potter

Giveaway closed!

From 77 entries, the randomly selected winner is Judith Rontal. Judith, I’ll be emailing you to get your information. Thanks for entering, everyone!

Lyndsay has graciously agreed to give a lovely mug from her vegan collection to one lucky reader! Enter below to win the vegan mug with turquoise trim. The only thing you must do is visit the Vegan Potter website and leave me a comment saying which of her pieces appeals to you most. Then fill out the Rafflecopter form below. (Only Rafflecopter entries are eligible!) You can rack up extra entries by completing a few other tasks.

>>> Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! <<<

This giveaway is open to both U.S. and international readers! Giveaway closes at 11:59pm, EDT, on Tuesday, September 5. Good luck!

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Review, Interview, and Giveaway: A Better Batch

Picture this: You’re sitting in a conference room after a daily hour-long meeting ends, catching up on a few emails and chatting with a couple coworkers. In walks another coworker, Sarah.

“Hey, do you guys want a brownie?” Sarah asks.

Something to note about Sarah: She and her husband Hanes run a vegan baking company.

With that in mind, is your answer going to be anything but a resounding YES? I think not.

You proceed to try the fudgiest, chewiest brownie you’ve had in ages. You tell Sarah how amazing it is.

“Oh, yeah? This was Hanes’ first attempt at a brownie!” she says. “Thanks so much for the feedback! We’re hoping to add it to the line soon.”

Jaw. Drop.

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One of the little perks of my job is getting to meet people like Sarah and Hanes, entrepreneurs who offer quality cruelty-free products to the world. Their company, A Better Batch, sells ready-to-bake vegan cookie dough in three delectable flavors, and they occasionally have fully baked products for sale at events like vegfests. If you’re a VegNews reader, you might’ve seen A Better Batch reviewed in the “Cookie Dough Taste Test” in the April 2016 issue! (Read on for a chance to try them yourself!)

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

Although A Better Batch is based in Maryland, their cookies are available to anyone in the United States thanks to their unique business model. ABB sends you frozen cookie dough that you can bake in your own kitchen. By shipping the dough quickly and packaging it with dry ice, Hanes and Sarah make sure that it will arrive still frozen and ready to bake.

Right now, ABB offers three flavors: mocha oatmeal, lemon poppy seed, and classic chocolate chip. I can say with no reservations that their Lemon Poppy Seed cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. Bursting with bright lemon flavor, they’re absolutely fabulous. Hanes and Sarah have managed to distill this flavor combination into a perfectly chewy, moist cookie that’s not to be missed. Mocha oatmeal is probably my second favorite — it’s another beautiful cookie, bursting with chocolatey goodness. Chocolate chip comes last, but not because of any defect — it’s a darn good classic cookie that anyone would enjoy.

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

But good-tasting cookies aren’t all that ABB offers. What sets A Better Batch apart from its competition is Hanes’ and Sarah’s dedication to providing the best possible products for people, the animals, and the environment. Here’s how:

  • Hanes and Sarah carefully source their ingredients, using fair-trade and organic options whenever possible. And by virtue of being vegan, these cookies are free of cholesterol.
  • Everything is vegan — no animals harmed here!
  • The cookies are shipped in biodegradable packaging instead of styrofoam containers, which we all know are horrible for the planet. And the individual wrappers are recyclable.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying ABB’s cookies a few times, but I wanted to know a little more about their business. So I reached out to Hanes, and he graciously answered all my questions and sent me a box of cookies to sample. Read on for his thoughts!

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

 

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Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I LOVE your lemon poppy seed cookies — they’re the best! Right now, you only have them and two other flavors available (chocolate chip and mocha oatmeal). I like that you have a few flavors that you do really, really well, but are you planning to expand your products in the future?  
Hanes: I’m glad to hear you love the Lemon Poppy Seed cookies! Yes, we do have plans to add more flavors and possibly different products such as brownies in the future. In fact, we just re-released a Peanut Butter cookie that we featured back in August for a limited time; it was a crowd favorite, so we brought it back!

K: Why vegan cookies? How did you get started?
H: My passion for baking started when I was growing up. I loved helping my Mom in the kitchen, and this carried over into adulthood. On the weekends I would get in the kitchen and make biscuits, cakes, cookies, pancakes etc. from scratch. I enjoyed it and found it to be a great creative outlet for me. About 9 years ago, my wife stumbled upon some information online about factory farms and how we treat animals in the current agricultural system. It was pretty shocking and we were completely ignorant to it before that. She started reading more about the subject and sharing a lot of the practices and statistics with me. Over the following few years we both continued to decrease our consumption of animal products and eventually went vegan.

This created a new challenge for me: how do I continue to bake and enjoy a lot of the comfort foods that I love making so much without animal products like butter and eggs? I got in the kitchen and got to work. I tried lots and lots of different recipes and found that I love vegan baking! I find that the vegan baked goods taste even better than the traditional counterparts, and they’re certainly better for animals, the environment, and even our health. I received rave reviews for my vegan cookies. They were being requested anytime we would go to friends’ houses or events. A couple of years ago, I started A Better Batch to make them available to people seeking amazing plant-based desserts everywhere.

K: What makes your batches better, i.e., what distinguishes your cookies from similar brands? 
H: At A Better Batch, we work hard to make sure that our cookies are the best vegan cookies on the market — not only in flavor but also in all aspects of our decision making. We are constantly seeking the best ingredients, which to us means using organic, GMO-free, and socially responsible products. For example, the coffee we use in our Mocha Oatmeal flavor is made by Brewing Good Coffee Company which is organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, and UTZ certified (a sustainable farming certification that covers farming practices, environmental impact, and social and living conditions). Also, their company donates a portion of proceeds to animal charities each month — how great is that! We refuse to use palm oil because of the devastating impact its production has on orangutan habitat. Our sugar, vanilla, and salt are all fair trade. Our boxes are made of 100% recycled material, and we don’t use Styrofoam in our shipping boxes; instead, we use an eco-friendly, biodegradable insulation. We take the taste of our cookies seriously, and we also take caring for the environment and animals seriously.

K: What’s the process like for developing new products? How long does it take?
H: It usually starts with me wanting a particular flavor and then I try and think about how that would look. Then I get in the kitchen and try to make it happen, which really is the fun part, as I get to eat lots and lots of test cookies. Sometimes it’s a very quick process, as with my Peanut Butter cookies (it was the very first attempt that I ended up going with!). Other times, it takes much longer. I’m currently working on a refrigerated cookie dough that you could either just eat with a spoon or bake; it has taken over 3 dozen attempts so far.

K: If you could select any flavor cookie to magically have developed and ready for production, what would it be? 
H: Salted Caramel! This is a cookie I have worked on before and plan to return to. It has proven tricky. I would like a nice soft sugar cookie that has little bites of gooey caramel with a slight sprinkling of sea salt on top to bring it all home. I’m a huge huge caramel fan!

K: I noticed that all your packaging is eco-friendly — how is that tied to your business as a whole? Does that ethic inform everything you do?
H: We want to be the best vegan goodie, not only in flavor and quality, but also in all the little decisions in between such as the packaging.  It’s important for us to make our products the very best way we can and that includes taking our impact on the environment into consideration.

K: Are you a full-time cookie baker, or do you have a(nother) day job?
H: I work during the week as an accountant. A Better Batch is my passion project, which is what I work on in the evenings and on the weekend. It does create a busy schedule sometimes, but the cookie business doesn’t really feel like work!

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I really appreciate how much thought Hanes put into his answers — and I’m dreaming of the day those salted caramel cookies become a reality! (Not to mention those brownies I tried a few months ago.)

Happily, A Better Batch generously offered to share the vegan goodness with one reader. Just visit the ABB website and let me know in a comment which flavor you want to try! One lucky winner will receive a box of all three flavors (worth about $58 including shipping). Sorry, my international friends — U.S. readers only this time! I’ll randomly select a winner at 5:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

If you don’t win but want to try these yummy cookies anyway, just sign up for the ABB newsletter to receive 15% off your first order. You can also check out ABB on Facebook and Twitter.

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*Disclaimer: After tasting their cookies on a few occasions throughout the past year, I reached out to A Better Batch and asked if they’d like to be profiled here. Although they did provide me with some cookies to taste for this post, all opinions are 100% my own. I enjoy supporting local, vegan-owned businesses and will never promote a company I don’t believe in just for the sake of some free samples.

All photos in this post courtesy Rebekah Collinsworth.