The business at 313 Fifth Ave. S.E., Suite A, near Rainy Day Records, opened Dec. 11. Baker has been a vegan for the past eight years and it was her passion about the lifestyle that finally propelled her into business. She has funded the entire business out of her own pocket – she continues to work part-time in addition to running her business – and has volunteers who help her with store staffing needs during the week.
One day Baker was eating a cheeseburger; the next day she wasn’t. And she hasn’t looked back since that day eight years ago.
“It’s more than just food; it’s a complete lifestyle,” she said. “This feels like a mission to me.”
For Baker, being a vegan means a diet that is 100 percent plant-based. But it doesn’t stop there, she said. It’s also a decision to not harm the environment and to be compassionate to living things, Baker said.
Dietary benefits, though, played a leading role in her decision to become a vegan, largely because cancer runs in her family. Both her parents died of cancer – one of liver cancer, the other of leukemia – and her brother is a cancer survivor. She also wanted to lose some weight, so she went “cold turkey” one day and became a vegan the next. “I’m happy in my own body,” Baker said.
Food products at Oly Vegan are mostly pantry items, such as cake mixes, biscuit mixes, pancake and waffle mixes. She carries those items as a way to help customers with the transition to becoming a vegan, reminding them that they are not missing out on certain foods. She also sells vegan body care products, fair-trade shoes and locally made handbags, as well as candles, wallets, jewelry and vintage housewares. A gourmet chocolate bar costs $3, baking mixes average about $8 and the shoes sell for about $35, Baker said.
Helping her out at the store are several volunteers, including Lisa Harper, 25, who recently moved to Olympia from Seattle with her husband, both of whom are vegan.
Harper met Baker one day at the Capitol Theater after a screening of the movie, “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary about the effects of plant-based nutrition. Baker spoke afterwards and Harper introduced herself, wanting to help out at the store.
Harper said that she and her husband decided to become vegans for different reasons. She said she didn’t feel right causing harm to animals, while her husband pursued it for the health benefits. Seattle is home to a vegan grocer as well as several vegan restaurants, so it’s nice to have a similar place in Olympia where you don’t always have to double-check the list of ingredients, Harper said.
Sometimes when she volunteers, she can’t help but become a customer, buying hard-to-find items at Oly Vegan such as honey substitutes and vegan marshmallows, she said.
As for business, Oly Vegan has a strong following on Facebook and on her blog, but Baker would like to see a few more customers in the store, she said. Harper expects an uptick in business once the weather improves.
“She’s made it this far,” Harper said. “It can only go up from here.”
Oly Vegan is open noon to 7 p.m. Friday through Wednesday.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403