I’ve been planning this post for a while, but it has to be posted now, because Bleeding Heart Bakery closed forever last Sunday. I guess I was expecting their controversies to continue on for a while, but that’s no longer the case, and I’d like this to be somewhat relevant.
I’m not gonna lie, for a long time I was confident that they would one day make my wedding cake.
See, I looooves my vegan baked goods. When I was growing up, I didn’t even think there were any sort of Bex-safe cupcakes or cakes or cookies out there that existed beyond my mom’s kitchen. Not until we discovered the bakery at Blind Faith Cafe did I learn the word vegan and its wonderful definition of “all you have to worry about now are nuts.”
I discovered Bleeding Heart’s existence in 2006 along with my brother, during Lollapalooza, when they were offering vegan ice cream sandwiches. I mean, it’s hard enough for me to find street/festival food I’m not allergic too, but desserts are nearly impossible. So I was a happy hippie camper. We went to their (first) storefront location on Chicago Ave. for brunch, and while I didn’t think the food was that memorable, I saw all the vegan pastries and it kinda solidified in my mind that, okay, this is a vegan-friendly bakery I can come back to once I move to the city (I was still in undergrad in CT at that point).
I’m not actually sure I ever went there during the first couple of years I lived in the city proper. They may have moved from Chicago Ave. to Belmont in that time, but I didn’t have a bike and I wasn’t going to take the bus from Broadway to Damen just to buy some cupcakes. But I knew the brand: Punk rock. Organic. Sustainable. Special-diet friendly. By the summer of 2010, I was spending a lot of my time with Jeremy in “West Bucktown,” so I went and retrieved my childhood bike from my parents garage in Evanston so I could get back and forth between East Lakeview and Hipsterville. And I could bike to Bleeding Heart. Cupcakes and cookies and scones for me and even some chocolate covered bacon for the chef.
At some point, they had some sort of cupcake-eating contest to draw publicity for a new location they were opening somewhere on Lincoln. In addition to having a contest for sheer numbers of cupcakes eaten, there was an additional contest for “most creative cupcake eating.” After making sure the cupcakes were, or could be vegan, I decided I’d compete in that one. One girl put a bunch of cupcakes on a stick and ate them. Another girl took ten minutes to take apart some cupcakes and arrange them into a skull face (she didn’t even eat any of it).
Here’s what I did:
I won some pretty cool stuff from that contest, including a private brewery tour and a discount at a tattoo parlor (not yet redeemed… need to make sure I’m not allergic to black tattoo ink). So I really have to thank them for that.
But the Lincoln Ave. location never actually opened, so that was kinda weird.
I was super excited when I learned that the BHB owners would be teaming up with the guys behind The Fifty/50 to open a bakery and 24-hr brunch spot. The couple of times we went there, the brunch was okay, but again, it’s a rare breed of restaurant that offers breakfast/brunch fixings I can actually eat. I’m pretty sure I can count the rest of them on one hand: Pick Me Up, Handlebar, Flying Saucer, Victory’s Banner, and maybe Chicago Diner (which also has a bakery). So any addition to that list is awesome. We like going to Roots a lot too, so it was excellent to have vegan desserts available next door after a night of drinking.
Then Bleeding Heart Sucks appeared.
I think I discovered the tumblr via Twitter. I followed the BHB twitter account at the time, and I remember the angry tweets directed at the tumblr creator. I checked it out and initially concluded it was just a bunch of whining, disgruntled ex-employees. But I had a couple of friends on Twitter whom I knew to be ex-employees, and they privately confirmed to me that they had similarly bad experiences. I still didn’t want to believe any of it, any of the horror stories about moldy tarts, old bacon, ingredients that weren’t at all “organic and sustainable,” long days and missing paychecks, etc. I talked it over with the Chef, who suggested that maybe the ex-employees just weren’t cut out for the “industry”. But more and more posts came in suggesting the opposite, that these ex-employees had worked in food service before and that their experiences with BHB were unlike anything they’d ever experienced.
And then I saw this post.
Now that sucks. Especially since, according to one ex-employee, BHB charged extra for special orders from people with allergy issues, to the tune of around $40 (a “sanitizing fee”). Forget all the promises of being organic and sustainable, if you’re paying extra to ensure that a bakery can produce you a special cake free of allergens, that money is like a deposit on your life. That was probably the nail in the coffin for me, that this bakery, still beloved by many, could build up people’s expectations to have an organic and allergen-free dessert and then possibly endanger their lives. For a nice extra fee. I swore off Bleeding Heart forever.
For a little while, I told myself that I didn’t need a storefront bakery to supply myself with cute boutique-styled vegan cupcakes in fancy flavors. I could just make them myself.
That didn’t turn out too well. I’m sure I could do a better job, but we don’t even have any pastry tools or anything to make them even look as good as, say, Sprinkles or Swirlz or any of the other myriad of cupcake places that sprang up over the past couple years.
But, in my quest to find a new place for vegan cupcakes, I did discover The Mixing Bowl, which isn’t a storefront, but a lovely lady who hawks delicious vegan goods just a few blocks away.
These are some of her donuts.
The 24-hr brunch spot, now entirely owned by Greg and Scott of The Fifty/50, has since reformed itself into the West Town Bakery & Diner, and I’ve been told they are still vegan-friendly. I haven’t checked them out since the switchover, but I plan on it. Also, I know of Fritz Pastry, which makes equally excellent vegan donuts. And the news recently broke that the Chicago Diner is opening a new location in Logan Square, much closer to me!
So, while I don’t really have a go-to vegan bakery anymore, the options are there for me. And it’s probably good that I don’t have a go-to anymore… I mean I’d want to support any bakery that is making dairy-free and egg-free delicacies. As long as you aren’t straight-up lying about your practices, I’m more than willing to have multiple favorites 🙂