Hey Shanaholic! So like, is that your real name?
No, Shanaholic isn't my real name. I just thought it would be a cute spinoff and way to connect me with Cinnaholic.
If people ask YOU personally about Cinnaholic, what do you tell them? What was it like becoming a business owner?
It's been a fun growth process since we started in July of 2010. Originally, we started out as a small shop in Berkeley, CA. I was putting in long hours, blood, sweat, and tears and barely making ends meet for about three of those years. Since then, we've expanded to 20+ locations, hired a corporate team and partnered with some amazing people all over the world! These days, I am able to focus more on managing the brand and conducting training sessions rather than working in the actual storefront. It's been really fun being able to dabble in all aspects of the business throughout the years.
How many cinnamon rolls would you say you've eaten today? And in your lifetime?
Back when I was working in the store, I would eat them every day. I've narrowed it down to when I travel for store openings now. I test the rolls at each opening I attend to make sure the product tastes the same so that our customers have the same experience anywhere they go.
Where did the idea for a strictly cinnamon roll shop come from?
I used to be a hobby baker and would attend vegan bake sales for fun on the weekends. I started making these unique cinnamon rolls every time we would go to them to sell. We were running late one day and a friend of ours called and said that people were already waiting for us to show up to buy them! That's when it clicked that we might have a business idea. I really liked the DIY concept that Chipotle, Subway, and Starbucks were using, so we decided that sticking with one product and making it customizable was the way to go.
Are they rolls or buns?
I tend to call them rolls, but people use the two terms interchangeably all the time. Call them whatever you want, just don't call them Cinnabons! Haha.
Now, rumor has it that Cinnaholic is entirely vegan. Is this true?
We are! From the very beginning and it will continue to be an all vegan company for as long as we are a part of it.
Why don't you use the word 'vegan' in your store and in your advertising more?
We have a section on our website that addresses veganism and why it is important to the company and in general. There's a great little video on our page that's worth a watch if you haven't seen it! We also have a small sticker in each store that shows our products are guaranteed vegan-friendly for those who are looking for reassurance. I think we've created nice balance so that if you're vegan, it's not hard to find the information. If you're not vegan, the information isn't being shoved in your face.
Our goal is to get people to try our products. Whether they are vegan, vegetarian, paleo, meat-eaters, whatever. You can sit and talk to someone about the impact of veganism until you're blue in the face. You can recommend every book, podcast, documentary, etc to try and convince them that living a vegan lifestyle is more sustainable than not, and get zero response. In my experience, people need to be shown first-hand how easy being vegan is and how they don't need to "sacrifice" everything in order to do better. We try to convey this message through amazing tasting food.
Do you think your choice to not overuse that word (or really use it at all) has lead to a lot of your success? Did you consider naming it something else with the word 'vegan' in the advertising? What were some other names you were considering before landing on Cinnaholic?
We chose not to advertise the word vegan too loudly because we've found that even in 2018, there is still an unfortunate stigma around the word. Especially around baked goods. Some people see "vegan" and are hesitant to even try the product. You can see in many of our Yelp reviews that people are shocked to find out we're vegan after having had the product because it tastes so good.
I used to have a blog that I did for fun called Confessions of a Cinnaholic. I was new to the vegan community at the time and that's really how I got my foot in the door with meeting people, finding out about vegan events and experimenting with baking. So, the name Cinnaholic essentially reflects that whole growth experience for me. It's also cute and sort of silly. And also true once you've tried our products :)
Any further thoughts on companies using the word "vegan" as opposed to "plant-based"?
I think the word "vegan" carries more of a weight to it. Eating plant-based is very different than living a vegan lifestyle. While eating plant-based is better for your health, it doesn't encompass the compassionate aspects of living cruelty-free necessarily. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people associate the idea of guilt, exclusion, and deprivation, when you use the term "vegan." Studies show that more people are willing to embrace a lighter term like "plant-based" to avoid feeling those feelings. The bottom line is to turn people on to the idea of switching from animal-based foods to plant-based ones. Whichever language helps get people there is fine by me.
How much say do you have in each franchise, and how much of Shanaholic's touch do they all have at this point?
All of the locations follow a standard franchise agreement that the product and the experience should stay the same no matter which one you visit in the U.S. or Canada. That's what I spent years building, testing, and perfecting. We also understand how important it is to be creative and to thrive in the environment you work in each day though. This is why we encourage our franchise partners to come up with fun names for their rolls that reflect the community they live and offer local menus in each state that feature specialty items available exclusively in their areas. So, each store varies slightly and has it's own unique vibe.
Do you have a favorite store?
Berkeley, CA will always be my baby. That's where Cinnaholic was born! As we expand, we've been able to add new things from equipment to fixtures to signage, which is exciting...so really every new store that opens is my new favorite as we continue to grow.
Both screen-shotted from from Instagram 8/9/18! Brand New!
Do you have a favorite roll?
That really depends on my mood. Our house-made cookie dough is amazing so the chocolate chip cookie dough roll is a best-seller and a classic fav. I'm also really into our peanut butter and amaretto frosting right now.
At the Berkeley shop, you had a wall full of pictures of famous people and musicians eating your cinnamon rolls. How do these people find out about Cinnaholic and who else has visited?
Both my husband and I grew up in the music scene. He was a touring musician in Germany, and I was a (goth) DJ/Programming Manager for a radio station back in the day, so we made a lot of celebrity contacts through our prior lives. We're so grateful to have been given the opportunity to have them post and advertise for us over the years. The vegan community is pretty tight knit and word of mouth travels fast. Being a specialty shop, we've sort of become a vegan tourist stop for people all over the world.
A) Will there be more?
Yes! We just signed a major deal in Canada with 60+ locations coming! There are also several U.S. locations underway right now. Including a few in Concord and Walnut Creek, where I grew up, which is exciting!
B) Will they stay vegan?
Absolutely. As long as Florian and I remain part of the company, there are no plans to change that.
C) What's next for Shanaholic?
Right now now, I'm having a lot of fun growing the brand, traveling the world, employing new staff, and opening people's minds up to the idea of veganism. Just trying to find a balance between work, family, and "me" time like everyone else I guess!
Editor's Note: This was an extraordinary opportunity to interview someone who once-upon-a-time served me an Old-School Roll at Cinnaholic's Grand Opening, and has now become an international restaurateur. 60 more locations?! Wow. I am so proud of you, Shannon. I am rooting for my other vegan restaurant-owning friends to reach such heights. (Looking your way Strong Hearts Cafe ;)
When my partner moved to California, we heard that Cinnaholic was going to open new locations, currently only having the one. She put the gears in motion to open one in Santa Cruz (little-known fact)! The time wasn't right, but sometimes we dream of what it might have been like owning our own store just down the Bay.