May 17, 2022

So good you won’t know it’s vegan

Mary Lee’s Lemon Cake at Southern Roots Vegan Bakery isn’t just a hit dessert, it’s also a nod to the co-owner’s grandmother, 99-year-old Mary Lee.

Co-owner Cara Pitts, who owns the 100% vegan bakery business with her husband Marcus Pitts, says it was her grandmother who inspired the business and who inspires them to keep improving.

“When she was in a nursing home, she wasn’t getting quality meals and I really had to advocate for her in the food selections,” says Cara Pitts. “I would like to see Southern Roots have an expansion of affordable meals for seniors and families in the next five to 10 years.”

The Pitts started Southern Roots Vegan Bakery in 2019 and have since become known for their donuts, cookies and volcano cakes. They also recently launched their own layered cakes. Each product is 100% vegan and nut-free (although they do note that the treats are not made in a nut-free facility). They ship nationwide and offer delivery to San Antonio.

The couple’s classic donuts caught the eye of Tabitha Brown, a well-known vegan chef and influencer, shortly after they opened. Tabitha featured Southern Roots in her “Very Good Mondays” video segment, singing the praises of Southern Roots’ vegan treats, and the company was soon inundated with orders. That, coupled with the trend in 2020 to buy from black-owned businesses, meant they were busy for the first year and beyond.

However, this momentum was short-lived. Now the Pitts are working to raise $100,000 through a crowdfunding campaign so they can keep Southern Roots Vegan Bakery not only afloat, but positioned for growth.

“Our business was self-funded by my husband and I when we launched in 2019,” she says. “We couldn’t get a business credit card or line of credit when we went viral because our business was no more than two years old.”

Photo courtesy of Southern Roots Vegan Bakery

The couple were also ineligible for COVID relief funds and even sold one of their vehicles to continue paying their staff. Towards the end of 2021, they had to lay off most of their staff due to lack of capital.

The Pitts say they have been invited to appear on national television shows, but without the funding to source ingredients and shipping supplies, they are unable to make commitments that could lead to large scale orders. They have also been nominated as Best Vegan Bakery by VegNews for two consecutive years.

“It’s exciting that they know about our business, but it’s disheartening to have to turn down huge opportunities that would help us grow,” says Cara Pitts.

All money raised from the crowdfunding effort will go towards inventory, improving packaging and investing in advertising, the Pitts say. They also offer benefits to those who donate. For every person who donates $50, they will receive a $75 Southern Roots gift card, and every person who donates $100 will receive a $150 gift card to Southern Roots. Just over $16,000 has been raised so far.

Regardless of their status, Cara Pitts says they will continue to strive to give back to San Antonio. They donated baked goods to every Baptist hospital worker during the pandemic and also donated to military personnel, schools and churches like the San Antonio All Nations Assembly of Worship. This week they are participating in Black Restaurant Week in support of the San Antonio Food Bank.

Long term, Cara Pitts says she would like to partner with a meal program that serves seniors, like her grandmother. She says their goal has always been to make treats so good you won’t believe they’re vegan, and they want that to extend to mealtimes as well.

“My husband and I always talk about legacies. The best part of this journey is being with my best friend, my husband,” she says. “We want to leave a legacy of generational wealth so that our children and their children may be proud of the empire we have built.”