Vegan East Bakery Whips Up Oodles of Deliciously Healthy Sweet Treats

In the early hours of the morning, as the color wheel in the sky turns from black to blue to orange to pink and the early birds begin to brew their coffee, Shelia Nelson prefers to stay in bed. But it might be a while before the St. Paul resident and co-owner of the new White Bear Lake bakery Vegan East gets to enjoy another leisurely morning.

“I’m not really a morning person,” Nelson says, laughing. “If I could start my schedule at 9 a.m. that would be perfect.” But escaping those early mornings is next to impossible now. Nelson wakes up along with the early birds and catches the sunrise as she mixes ingredients, and the sweet smell of vegan cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, rolls, cinnamon rolls and cheesecake begins to fill the air around her.

Nelson’s baking is inspired by her vegan values. In 2015 she and her co-owner husband, Reid, decided to try a vegetarian diet. “We were vegetarian for a year,” she says, adding that something still felt missing. The couple felt they could take it a step further and, almost exactly one year later, they decided to become vegan. This big lifestyle change spurred Nelson to start baking—tasty vegan treats that aren’t found in the aisles of the average grocery store or corner market. Nelson’s family acted as her original taste-testers until she brought her delectable, vegan creations to Veg Fest, a festival featuring all things vegetarian and vegan. Her business snowballed from there, and she began selling desserts out of her St. Paul home. Eventually, “we decided we needed a shop,” she says.

The desserts at Vegan East—from fluffy cakes with intricate floral designs to gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cookies—will tempt customers, vegan or otherwise, with their rich flavors. “I want to show people that we don’t need to use eggs to make a good vegan dessert,” Nelson says. The baker’s personal favorite is her cheesecake, a recipe she created after tasting a drool-inducing vegan cheesecake on a trip to New York City.

Nelson chose the shop for its location and cute interior. The former Avalon Tea Room in downtown White Bear Lake provided a great space for a bakery. The building was built in 1930 as the Avalon Theater, and one of the original brick walls still proudly frames the space. Customers can delight in a bit of White Bear history as they enthusiastically chomp down on vegan treats—the memories of years past clinging to the air as sure as the sweet smells. “We had been looking at shops in different neighborhoods,” she says. “My sister had been working in downtown White Bear for 20 years. There’s a lot of people and traffic.”   

Interspersed into this traffic, there are bound to be many who have never tasted a vegan dessert, and Nelson is excited to expand their horizons. Nelson recalls one of her friends devouring an entire tin of her cookies in one sitting, and she hopes this enthusiasm will spread throughout the White Bear Lake community. “I think the desserts speak for themselves,” she says.  

A Look at the Menu

Here’s the million dollar question: Can a dessert without milk, eggs or butter still set off fireworks on your taste buds? The answer is yes; get ready for a spectacular show! Nelson gave us a sneak peek into some of her tantalizing treats that will have both vegans and non-vegans alike, hopping, skipping and jumping to downtown White Bear to taste these vegan delights for themselves.  

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls: Cinnamon rolls produce a specific type of nostalgia: sleeping late on a weekend morning and waking up to that sweet smell of cinnamon, sizzling in the oven. This roll is sure to bring those childhood memories tumbling back. Delicate, fluffy dough, filled to the brim with a cinnamon filling and blanketed in a sweet vanilla glaze. $4.25

Vegan/Gluten-free Spiced Cinnamon Rolls: This non-traditional cinnamon roll packs a punch. This treat—filled with cinnamon, spice (and everything nice) and topped with a sweet, sugary glaze—is for the adventurous souls that enjoy a new take on a classic. Bonus—it’s gluten free! $4.25

Vegan Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake: The perfect marriage of salty and sweet. Rich chocolate cake coated in salted caramel butter cream icing and topped with pretzel pieces and a drizzling of chocolate. $39. Prices vary by size.

Vegan S’mores Cookie: How can one improve on the classic campfire treat that is a s’more? Put it inside of a cookie. Chocolate chips, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs come together in perfect harmony in this rich treat that might have customers longing for a trip to the cabin (or a second cookie).