The Paisley Pantry: Vegan, Gluten Free, Delicious

Words: Kelley Heider

Photos: Carly Mitchell

I’ve been vegan for over ten years. People often think this means I subsist on nuts and berries. After knowing me for a meal or two, their misconceptions are handily corrected. I love to eat. Whenever I visit a new place, it’s a fun challenge to stake out the best local spots to get vegan-friendly food. However, anyone who is vegan knows (though most can easily imagine) baked goods worthy of their calories are hard to come by. Unless you are in a bigger city like San Francisco or New York, the search for a good vegan pastry is generally futile. As a relatively new resident of Colorado Springs, I ask about vegan-friendly desert options wherever I go. I thought it was too good to be true when I discovered delicious vegan and gluten free pastries at Fifty Fifty Coffee House and Seeds Community Café. The taste and texture of the pop-tarts, muffins, English muffins and pie I sampled (more like stuffed my face with) was something that even omnivores would drool over. Come to find out, everything I had eaten was prepared with care by the same gifted woman, Teresa Hickman, owner of The Paisley Pantry.

The Paisley Pantry supplies gluten-free baked goods to local restaurants and retailers like Fifty Fifty Coffee House, Mountain Naturals in Woodland Park, Ranch Foods Direct and Seeds Community Café. You can also custom-order cookies, pies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, buns and bread. Looking over the menu, pies with unique flavor combinations like red chile pumpkin, cherry chipotle and buttermilk custard jump out as well as dozens of cookie and muffin flavors that compliment more standard breads and rolls. After being haunted by the legend of Ms. Hickman and her legendary baked goods for some time, I decided to ask if she’d sit with me and tell me more about how she became such a magician in the kitchen.

I met up with Teresa in the Unitah Station shopping complex at the shared kitchen space lovingly referred to as "The Kitchen" (formerly Gotta Love It! Kitchen). She was gathering ingredients for raspberry jalapeño pop-tarts and peanut butter and jelly muffins, which she planned to deliver to Fifty Fifty Coffee House the next day. The Kitchen is a maze of baker’s racks and industrial kitchen equipment with people humming around like busy bees, preparing food and filling different areas with the sound of productivity. At one point, Dan Reich, owner of the space and purveyor of Papa Joe’s Little Chalet Salad Dressing, stopped by with his young son, who came through to say “Hi” before bounding off to play. The Kitchen had the distinctly pleasant atmosphere of a family home during the holidays, providing a nice backdrop to my conversation with Teresa.

“It’s always been a dream to have some sort of food-related business.”

Teresa starts by explaining how The Paisley Pantry began two years ago. “I’ve always loved cooking and baking,” she says. “No matter where I worked, I’d always take goodies in. People miss me when I’m gone.” Teresa smiles widely and I can’t help but note the glimmer of mischief in her eye. When Teresa’s daughter and son-in-law bought the local cupcake truck and started renting space in the community kitchen, Teresa started getting serious about her passion. “It’s always been a dream to have some sort of food-related business.” Discovering that she didn’t need to rent her very own space to have a business was a major motivator. Teresa’s son-in-law designed the Paisley Pantry logo and before she knew it, Teresa was in business. And business has been good.

As our conversation continues, Teresa admits that she launched The Paisley Pantry without a clear idea of where it would lead. She tells me that her husband makes a salsa that he has always wanted to bottle and sell. “Originally, when I started my business it was to do pickles and salsas and jams and jellies and pastries…I love to can and make different kinds of pickles.” She’s sure to point out that her canned goods are unique. Teresa always finds a way to add an unexpected twist to original favorites, like strawberry balsamic, and of course, the pop-tart flavor du jour, raspberry jalapeño.

Then came last summer’s Manitou Pie Baking Contest and Ice Cream Social, which really shifted Teresa’s gears. “I decided to enter it. It was the first contest I’d ever entered.” Her knack for throwing culinary curveballs landed her in first and second place with a traditional cherry pie and her now locally famous apple green chile pie (both of which can usually be found at Seeds Community Café).  Teresa earned those awards with her regular pie crust, which she has since found a way to make vegan and gluten free.

“There’s no reason why a person who is gluten free should not have good food.”

The story of the evolution of The Paisley Pantry is a testament to the agility of a successful entrepreneur. Teresa knew her passion was making good food for other people, and she responded deftly to a demand that she saw growing among her customers. Shortly after her big win at the Manitou Pie Baking Contest, shop owners Jo Marini (Fifty Fifty Coffee House) and Chef Lin (Seeds Community Café) began discussing with Teresa their desire to carry pastries and desserts that catered to a gluten free and vegan clientele. Teresa jumped on board immediately. “There’s no reason why a person who is gluten free should not have good food,” she explains. “It just became a personal challenge to make it to where the highest praise I could ever get is ‘I could not tell this was gluten free.’”

To get to that point, Teresa did a lot of research and experimenting with flours to achieve the perfect texture in her pie crust. Then it was a matter of practice to achieve consistent results. “It probably took me a few tries to get what I was happy with and I continued tweaking it over time until now I have it down pat,” she says before going on to tease the Progressive Paleo folks who are working only a few feet away. “People here hate when I practice because they have to eat the samples.” Everyone laughs. Apparently they also give her a hard time when she goes without practice. Though she makes it sound simple, the challenge she faces in her craft is no small feat. It involves accounting for high altitude, calculating for egg replacement and finding the perfect blend of gluten free flours.

“One of the benefits [of being in a shared kitchen space] is that I do have people here who can help me with testing. Most of them don’t have to eat gluten free, so there’s feedback about texture and taste and things, and they’re honest.” Again, The Kitchen reminds me a bit of family. Since it is now a dedicated, gluten free space and there isn’t a threat of cross-contamination, there’s sort of a standing agreement that they can borrow each other’s things if they need to—some implements are even community-owned.

“There’s kind of a nice little network here,” Teresa explains. When one group starts being carried in a store, they promote other groups from The Kitchen who might be a good fit for that space. The Kitchen is like an incubator for food-based businesses. One of the obvious downsides is eventually outgrowing her dedicated, household-kitchen-sized workspace as business picks up. Right now, Teresa describes it as a juggling act. But it seems as though her plans are developing. She’s begun taking on employees, and her son is returning to Colorado with intentions to help Teresa grow her business.

“I’d like to have my own bakery, maybe a café.”

“I’d like to have my own bakery, maybe a café,” she says, describing to me her ideas of some place quaint on the outskirts of downtown. Teresa acts as if she doesn’t want to jinx the dream, but I can only see The Paisley Pantry gaining momentum. “One way I show love to people is through my food,” she says matter-of-factly. And I think that shines through to anyone who has tried her baked goods. I love you too, Teresa. I love you too.