Photo credit: Tabatha Jones.
It’s 4:30 p.m. in Owensboro, Kentucky. For Krystal Dillard, it’s time to make the doughnuts – vegan doughnuts, that is.
Dillard, who has worked at U.S. Bank since 2010, runs an online, vegan doughnut shop that she operates from her home when she’s not doing her day job. The business is part of what Dillard calls her own journey back to a healthier lifestyle, a journey that began three years ago when she stopped eating beef and pork. She made the full transition to vegan – avoiding all meat and dairy – in August 2020.
Dillard started posting photos of her meals on her personal Facebook page and launched an online business called The Hippie Herbivore Co. She wanted to encourage other people in her community – a city of 60,000 on the Ohio River about two hours from Louisville – who were thinking about becoming vegan or just looking for healthier eating options.
“The whole idea with wanting to do this publicly was to help others,” said Dillard, the lone vegan in her family. “It’s a small town, we don’t have many vegan options. There’s one health store that sells smoothies.”
Initially, Dillard thought she wanted to focus her business on selling prepared vegan entrees. But her three young children – including a four-year-old daughter who is lactose intolerant – were reluctant to try her dishes at first.
One day while perusing Pinterest for vegan snacks that her family might eat, Dillard saw an intriguing recipe for vegan doughnuts. She thought people – her kids especially – might be more likely to try a vegan snack than full meals of vegetables and rice. So, she bought two doughnut pans and went to work.
“It took about a week to perfect the recipe,” she said. “They’re baked, not fried. I was using oil, not butter and then found a good plant-based butter that made the difference.”
The first flavors she made were a hit with her family are still her best-selling: cinnamon and sugar, chocolate glazed and birthday cake.
Dillard started selling the doughnuts after she transitioned to vegan in August and has gained a local following. She now sells 15 flavors – including carrot cake, banana nut, chocolate peanut butter, and pecan maple glaze – and uses a mobile app that helps her check ingredients to make sure they’re truly vegan.
“I’m considering doing a maple with bacon substitute,” she said.
Dillard works full-time in Consumer and Business Banking in Owensboro, home to a mortgage processing arm of U.S. Bank, one of the country’s largest. She transitioned to working from home during the pandemic and the more flexible schedule has allowed additional time in the kitchen, helping her business pick up steam.
Dillard keeps a hectic pace. She bakes at least four days a week, including Saturday and Sunday, with one day dedicated to prep work. During the week, Dillard does her U.S. Bank day job from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. After clocking out, she begins baking.
“When I started, I had two doughnut pans and now I have 20,” she said. “I had to buy another oven rack. I never expected it to come off the way it did.”
Dillard said coming up with a price was tricky given her goal to make the doughnuts affordable. She charges $2 each, about half the price of a store-made vegan alternative, she said.
She bakes everything fresh to order and sells them in batches of six or 12. For now, Dillard sells her doughnuts to people in the Owensboro community, though she hopes to expand her reach in the future. Since she doesn’t have a sweet tooth, Dillard’s children are more than happy to serve as taste testers.
A lot of Dillard’s customers aren’t vegan, but they have a food allergy. And some customers have told Dillard that their kids had never eaten a doughnut before.
Dillard is happy in her full-time job at U.S. Bank and glad that she’s found a fun way to have a side business that introduces people to vegan food, even if it means very little down time. As a bonus, her own children have grown to love her vegan cooking.
“I just wanted people to try it so that they know how good it is and maybe make better choices without skipping out on flavor,” she said. “It doesn’t have to taste like cardboard.”