Photos by Asia Morris.
"If you had told me a year ago that I would be making my rent selling donuts I would have laughed," said Jen Hackler, an Oahu-native turned proud Long Beach resident and small business owner.
She smiled, still surprised at the situation. You can tell when talking with her that she still feels varying levels of disbelief that The Caffeinated Kitchen, a small vegan pastry business she began three years ago as a blog experiment, has grown to consume her life and her kitchen, in both their entireties.
"The whole thing started as a blog in 2012," she explained, "and I didn't tell anybody about it, I thought, 'I hope no one ever sees this, this is so embarrassing.' I just wanted to learn how to cook and I mostly just wanted to take pictures, I think."
A passion for food photography and the desire to gain a few artful culinary skills eventually led her to baking, which she found she preferred, and what once was a food blog quickly became a blog about baked goods. Not to mention, an admirable consideration for her friends of the vegan variety presented the challenge to figure out what she could bring to potluck gatherings.
"You can't bring something they can't eat to their own house, that's messed up," she stated matter-of-factly.
Hackler was working a monotonous job for Nordstrom filling online sales orders, alongside her then-hobby of baking, when an impromptu conversation with Wade Windsor of Lord Windsor Roasters opened the door to what she didn't realize at the time would be the start of something deliciously all-consuming. Lord Windsor was in need of a vegan baked good for its customers and Hackler had the solution.
And while first-batch jitters and her own impossibly high standards prolonged her bringing in the vegan goods for an arduous two months of perfecting each recipe, she finally decided, "You know what, everyone is their harshest critic and I'm never going to bring them anything if I need it to be good enough to my standards. So I was like, 'F*ck it, I'll just bring it.'"
And bring it, she delectably did.
"The first time I tried one of the donuts, I felt voodoo was involved," said Wade. "I couldn’t imagine how something 'vegan' could be so cake-like in taste." Lindsay, co-founder, co-owner of Lord Windsor along with her husband Wade, couldn't have agreed more.
"Sometimes vegan baked goods come across as if they are imitating the real thing or missing an important ingredient," said Lindsay. "Her pastries cater to non-vegans just as much as vegans. We rarely even mention they are vegan and no one ever says 'this is good for a vegan donut.' It’s just a great donut that happens to not have any animal products."
Hackler's inventive pastries have been flying off the shelves ever since they made their storefront debut at Lord Windsor, from the first scones to the now very popular donuts, of which the Lavender Lemon flavor seems to ring especially true with customers' palates.
She tells people that she wouldn't even be a business if it weren't for Wade and Lindsay's initial trust in her confections, which fittingly, were also inspired by her innate compulsion to create a pastry that could go hand-in-hand with a good cup of coffee.
"It's not even just about donuts,” said Hackler, "it's about coffee specifically because I just love coffee, everything I do is for the coffee. So the donuts are the new cupcake and they'll go out eventually and then we'll do something else, but for now it's donuts."
As Wade would phrase it, good coffee and a good pastry together are like "Yin and yang, dude. Soy sauce and wasabi. Pizza and beer. Lindberg cheese and old samurai movies. You get the point."
Now, with several local coffee shops demanding the donuts primarily, including Portfolio Coffeehouse, Rose Park Roasters and the newly-established Steelhead Coffee in Cal Heights, as well as out-of-town businesses like Cafecito Organico at The Lab in Costa Mesa and the Anaheim Packing District, Hackler put in her final notice at Nordstrom and has officially committed full time to Caffeinated Kitchen as of early April.
"It's terrifying," she exclaimed with raised eyebrows. "Because I've had a job since I was 15. You just have a job, you don't just not have a job, you know. I never thought I would not have a place that I needed to clock into."
Nowadays, Hackler makes about a hundred donuts at a time (using applesauce instead of eggs and coconut oil instead of cream) and delivers them every other day, with February being the first month she sold over a thousand. Business is growing, clearly, but Hackler has dreams not to open a brick and mortar, but to perhaps start a mobile cafe. It's all about coffee and a pastry, served with an inevitable side of good natured social interaction.
"I like the way that I can be mobile right now and go to different places [to deliver]," Hackler iterated. "That's my way of going in and meeting the baristas and getting feedback and seeing what's selling and what's not. I don't want to give that up, that's my connection to the outside world, otherwise I'm just going to be cooped up in the kitchen all day."
"This is already so far beyond what I thought it was going to be so I'm just going with the flow right now, seeing where it goes," she concluded.
For more information, visit The Caffeinated Kitchen’s website here. For the most up to date digs on the donuts and other pastries, follow the Instagram at the handle @thecaffeinatedkitchen or check out the Facebook page, here.