The accidentally punk rock story behind Skull & Cakebones cupcakes
Sascha Biesi and Yauss Berenji didn't set out to start a punk rock cupcake business with Skull & Cakebones (www.skullandcakebones.com), but that's exactly what they've grown, from a seat-of-the-pants approach to baking professionally and cultivating meaningful relationships with other local small businesses. Biesi, a former actress and writer, had long since nailed down the particulars of vegan baking after her daughter Ruby, now 12, was born with a dairy allergy. Berenji's mother, a health nut descended from a long line of diabetics, was so impressed with Biesi's creative flavor combinations that she encouraged the couple to pursue the hobby as a business.
The pair finally agreed to explore the possibilities. "We figured we'd start a food truck," says Berenji. "We thought that would result in the smallest amount of loss if it didn't work out."
The plan was to start slowly, dip a toe in, and test the waters for Biesi's creations beyond family shindigs. They decided to sample some offerings at the weekly tea garden gatherings at Ruby's school, where parents mingle over coffee and breakfast. One of those Friday-morning assemblies, just before Thanksgiving in 2012, proved fortuitous.
"One of the parents at the school owns the property that Jester King is on, and [the brewery was] about to have [its] second anniversary party," explains Biesi. "She asked if we wanted to be a vendor." At that point, Biesi hadn't made more than a few dozen cupcakes at a time, but she seized the opportunity. Borrowing a "kitchen" (which was actually a trailer – with one oven – situated on remote land in Dripping Springs) from a friend who'd recently shuttered a bakery, Biesi cranked out 1,000 cupcakes in flavors featuring Jester King beers to sell at the Jan. 26, 2013, event. "That was our first foray into partnering," says Biesi.
In fact, it is Skull & Cakebones' partnerships with local purveyors that distinguishes them from other local operations. While many bakeries can boast vegan and non-GMO ingredients, Biesi and Berenji have pretty much cornered the market on pastries featuring vegetables from Johnson's Backyard Garden, Jester King beers, Cuvée Coffee, and Buddha's Brew Kombucha.
"We wanted to take it one step further because we don't want to just be known as vegan cupcakes," says Berenji. "We want to be something greater than that. This is a food town, it's all about food here, so why wouldn't we work with other people?"
"We're creating these true partnerships, like putting other people's logos on the front of our packaging," Biesi adds. "We demo actively at Whole Foods and Wheatsville and Royal Blue, and during those demos we're not just talking about our product, we're talking about our product and theirs. And not just about our product and theirs together, but 'you can find theirs on aisle six, let me show you.' We partner with people whose companies and business models we agree with and we want to promote as much as our own brand."
While the skull-and-crossbones logo and cute, tattoo-style doodles on the operation's packaging may signify a punk rock identity, it's Skull & Cakebones' DIY approach, grounded in a clear point of view and bolstered by a network of partnerships with like-minded businesses, that aligns them with punk's ethos. That their treats are also delicious is the icing on the cupcake.