A croissant is one of the truest pleasures in life, a confection: exquisite layers made out of richness and hard, careful work by someone else’s hand. But making food for a living is one of the easiest ways to exhaust yourself. To learn patisserie requires years of practice in an industry with notoriously difficult conditions. The service of that work adds grace to the pastry’s delicate lattice.
Hannah Houlden’s pastries have a special alchemy to them. The flake of her laminated pastry is immaculate. Her whipped buttercream is somehow equally light and rich. Her standbys like chocolate chip cookies and pop tarts elevate nostalgic flavors. Any of these accomplishments would cause her work to stand out. Her pastries are also 100% vegan.
Hannah is most known for her pastries at coffee shops around town, under the name Houlden’s Rise Above. Now you’ll be able to find her treats at a brick and mortar — a vegan bakery she just opened at 5029 E. Fifth St.
For now, the bakery is open from 10 a.m. until sold out on Saturday and Sunday, a nonstop shift that lasts about two hours.
The most special items at the brick and mortar are those that can’t be found at coffee shops due to health codes or logistical obstacles with home baking. For instance, perishable ingredients like fresh vegetables aren’t allowed in home baking; all goods need to be shelf-stable. You can’t have the savory tart, featuring indulgent grilled onions whose richness are deftly balanced with a sprinkle of fresh arugula, at any of the 11 (soon to be 12, at the west-side Presta Coffee Roasters) coffee shop locations Houlden’s still delivers to daily.
“I also have a cold case here so I’m making cakes I’m selling by the slice tomorrow. We’re going to have things that don’t travel or need refrigeration; specials,” she said.
I loved the cake I tried. As someone who always has extra frosting left over at the end of a slice, her funfetti cake with strawberry jam and whipped buttercream frosting is a perfect ratio to clean your plate (though it did take me two different sittings; the $6.50 slice was enormous).
Hannah is excited to have deep fryers for doughnuts at the bakery, too. While there’s no at-home health code against selling doughnuts, “I don’t want to make them at 3 a.m. and then deliver it to Presta at 6:30 and then they open at 9,” she said. Hopefully, she will soon fry them the hour before opening and sell them fresh.
“I don’t know how down and dirty your eating habits have been, but if you can catch the doughnut truck at Circle K, [fresh donuts are] better,” Hannah said.
One of Hannah’s earliest memories is waiting in the restaurant office for her mom, a front-of-house manager, or her dad, a chef, to get off work. Like many who have loved ones in the restaurant business, Hannah’s family discouraged her from joining the industry.
But the kitchen has been her sanctuary since becoming sober at the age of 20.
“[Becoming sober was a] pretty big life change at a pretty young age. It took a lot of my avenues for socializing away that I had learned to that point; kitchens were a safe place for me,” she said.
But Hannah started Houlden’s Rise Above out of spite for her last place of work, a restaurant that stripped the safety she felt in kitchens away. “Asking for basic respect and consideration turned into a very extreme bullying situation,” she said. “It was a deep hurt.”
Her brick and mortar is a place for her to express her values: to create a space that’s cruelty-free for animals and workers alike.
“The overarching effect is that [that experience] inspired me to provide what I couldn’t find, and provide what is possible,” Hannah said. “I think this can be a really rewarding and gratifying place to be, in the right environment.”
For her small crew, she said: “I want this [job] to enrich your life; not to be something that makes your life harder. Work is a tool for you to have a liveable life; I want this to be that.”
Unfortunately, while she has worked to change the culture of her workspace, the grueling hours haven’t changed. She still wakes up at 10 p.m. for a 15-hour shift.
Her team consists of her husband, who quit his job to DIY her dream kitchen, a close friend who takes over on Mondays so Hannah can catch up on sleep, and a few employees she is still training.
“I do have a 90-hour work week and I don’t want that to always be the case,” she said.
Hannah was once meeting with a client, who asked her who he should send his menu choices to. The answer was her. He asked who would be the one baking, and who would be the one sending the invoices. It's all Hannah. “He was like, ‘Do you do all of it?’” Hannah said. “I was like, ‘Pretty much. It's mostly me.’”
She also works the counter herself, because the hours are too irregular, too brutal, for a part-time employee.
When I visited around 11 a.m. on a Saturday, there was a line down the block of the strip mall sidewalk that was just as long when I left as it had been when I arrived. The bear claws sold out with the customer ahead of me in line; I feared there would be people who waited as long as I did who went home empty-handed.
Luckily, by the time I got inside, the case still had plenty of options. The bakery is self-consciously vegan and proudly DIY: its sparse decor includes a neon sign spelling “animal liberation” in all caps and a glass case displaying Animal Liberation Front zines.
Hannah became a vegan because musicians she loved shared their convictions; her food might show even more people that it’s not only possible, but delicious, to indulge without animal products.
“If you don’t have to eat the butter ones, why not not do it?” she said.
Houlden's Rise Above
Location: 5029 E. Fifth St.
Hours: 10 a.m. until sold out, Saturday-Sunday
For more information, check out her website.
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