By DARREN MILLER
Communications Specialist, Iowa JPEC
What began as stress relief is evolving into a career for University of Iowa junior Ava Reynolds, founder of Beets n Treats, a vegan café and bakery.
Beets n Treats isn’t your typical bakery. All pastries are vegan compliant and many are gluten free. The business model, and its ensuing popularity, keeps Reynolds on her toes (and near an oven) since she began selling in September 2021. (A vegan diet is food that does not include animal products like milk, butter, eggs).
“I have always liked to bake; it is a stress-reliever for me,” said Reynolds, a native of Moline, Illinois.
Her love of baking originated while she was a student at Rock Island (Illinois) Alleman High School. When Reynolds wanted to take a mental break from academics or track and field, the oven started to preheat.
“I liked to experiment with my baking and realized I had a knack for it,” Reynolds said.
Her idea for Beets n Treats took off during the COVID-19 pandemic when Reynolds was studying online at home in Moline. Like most college students, she enjoys the social media app Instagram and started posting images of her vegan treats. Someone commented about the possibility of purchasing a sampler tray, so when Reynolds returned to Iowa City — a place with limited vegan options — she began to sell on a direct basis.
“It’s pretty small right now,” Reynolds admits.
But Beets n Treats has momentum. There are pickup locations, Reynolds has catered events for the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and she takes order requests from Daydrink coffee shop in downtown Iowa City.
The most frequent feedback Reynolds receives is: “They don’t taste vegan.”
“I think that’s a good thing,” she said with a smile. “They are not pumped full of additives; they are very natural and very good. People say they expect it to taste different; I think there is a misconception about vegan treats, and I look to change that.”
There is another myth that Reynolds has started to eliminate. Some equate healthy, vegan-friendly options with high prices. That isn’t the case with Beets n Treats.
“I try to keep it at a just-above-cost price,” Reynolds said. “People with dietary restrictions should be able to enjoy the same treats as everyone else without sacrificing flavor, price, and health. I try to keep it as an affordable price for everyone.”
Beets n Treats can be found on Instagram at beets.n.treats (an order form is in the bio) or at the website beetsntreats.com. Menu options are chocolate beet muffins (gluten free), lemon blueberry scones (a top seller), matcha chai cookies, banana nut muffin tops (gluten free), pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, turtle brownies (gluten free), and apple cinnamon rolls. You may also purchase a loaf of pumpkin snickerdoodle or funky monkey banana bread.
Reynolds, an enterprise leadership major, has a gluten sensitivity and tries to eat vegan as much as possible.
“I realize a lot of people actually like (the vegan treats), and there is a market for that in Iowa City,” Reynolds said. “There are not many vegan or gluten-free options in the Iowa City area so I figured I might as well sell them.”
The biggest challenge facing Reynolds is finding the capacity for the requested amount of baked goods. She frequently borrows a neighbor’s oven (the neighbor receives complimentary goodies), but knows it won’t be long until she needs to expand — especially if business continues to grow. On Nov. 3, Reynolds formed a limited liability company and expects to sell at the upcoming Holiday Market in Iowa City and area Farmers Markets in the summer. With an assist from several people at Iowa JPEC, she is trying to get her baked goods into restaurants or local grocery stores. There will be a special “pie push” around Thanksgiving.
Reynolds said Iowa JPEC’s Startup Incubator program was an excellent way to grow her business.
“There are a lot of resources I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own,” Reynolds said. “[Iowa JPEC] granted me access to a lot.”
Reynolds’ long-term goal is to return to the Quad-Cities and establish a vegan café and bakery there, eventually expanding to include pop-up shops. But for now, she is doing her best to satisfy a sweet tooth for customers in the Iowa City area.
Hopefully her neighbors keep their ovens free.