It’s always a sad day when a hard working small business owner closes the doors to his or her business.
But what kind of day does that make it when a trail-blazing, virtuous, culturally game-changing enterprise is shut down?
When I learned the news about Auntie Loo’s Treats – in a call from Mandi Loo herself – I felt strangely unemotional. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel sick. I felt numb. She needed my help, so I was strong for her.
Now at the end of a day of seeing tributes roll in for this magnificent punk rock bake shop – the first vegan bakery in Eastern Ontario – I feel gutted. It’s like re-living ZenKitchen all over again (I still choke up a bit when I drive by).
While my personal shopping habits tend to revolve around the Auntie Loo’s-type businesses of the world, I’m reminded that many people’s still don’t. And that’s a big part of why so many of them fail.
Grab a well-designed package off the shelf. Look for the cheapest option, not the best or most ethical product. Complain loudly at the slightest mistake when it’s a small business because we feel we’ll be heard, but let it slide when it’s a conglomerate, perpetuating the tyranny of mediocrity and the race to the bottom.
Auntie Loo’s Treats has contributed profoundly to the development of a vegan culture here in Ottawa. While Mandi herself is a deeply passionate ethics-based vegan, it manifested itself in the most positive way possible: Cupcakes and treats. She was a legend in Ottawa for her birthday bashes, and her pop up diners – at which she would serve vegan comfort food classics – were hotly anticipated. The wedding cakes that came out of the bakery were masterpieces.
Her brand of outreach was to feed people so that they’d smile. She opened countless minds to the possibility that vegan food could be not only edible, but delicious. She truly became Ottawa’s lovable vegan Aunt, who happened to also be tough as nails and pretty in pink all at once. She’s a hustler, a connector, and a maven all at once.
She helped to make vegan seem… cool.
That’s to say nothing of the rest of her crew. Miss Kate, cake artist extraordinaire and crazy cat lady, Little Jo Berry, a living doll, Darcia (who I did not know well), and various other staff who served bakery customers with trademark enthusiasm and zest. I hope that other businesses snap these ladies up.
I am fortunate to count Mandi among my close friends, and I know she’ll bounce back. But I also know she’s in a world of pain right now. It’s the end of the era. When ZenKitchen folded last year, Mandi was among the first to offer her help in the resurrection campaign. That’s just how she is, always supporting others.
I know that the business has had its ups and downs, especially the past while. Despite what I imagine must be crushing devastation, I hope that Mandi feels a small shred of relief that the merry-go-round has ground to a screeching halt.
And I hope that we can all give her our support, followed by some breathing room, so that she can find the next way to make her mark.
RIP Auntie Loo’s Treats, but Vive Mandi and her amazing team. xo