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Shannon Roche and Meagan Benz opened up their wholesale bakery in Jan 2015. Photo: Shannon Roche.
Shannon Roche and Meagan Benz opened up their wholesale bakery in Jan 2015. Photo: Shannon Roche.

Crust Vegan Bakery in Manayunk is women-owned, and making a name for itself with a community-first approach

Shannon Roche and Meagan Benz have opened a storefront to bring all of their staff back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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When Shannon Roche moved from rural Tennessee to Philadelphia, she did not know she wanted to be in the food business.

“I was actually in college getting my Ph.D. in Marine Biology Chemistry, so I wanted to study algae,” said Roche, co-owner of Crust Vegan Bakery in Manayunk. “Meagan came from a science and graphic design background, so didn’t think about opening her own business either.”

“Meagan” is Meagan Benz, who Roche met when she moved to Philly after dropping out of graduate school.

Together, they saved up enough money to invest in their own wholesale business, Crust Vegan Bakery in January 2015.

“We opened up our bakery with no assistance, we both kept our day jobs and worked nights,” said Roche.

Other small business owners from the Philly area soon took a chance on the new venture and took a liking to the delicious pastries that Roche and Benz created.

Their specialty baking service was on the upswing.

“We have over 60 small business owners order our pastries so far,” said Roche.

But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic came, hitting Philly’s food scene and putting it at a standstill, Crust Vegan Bakery included.

“One year ago, today, we closed our business, but the first thing we thought about is our staff, a lot of them did not receive unemployment yet,” she said.”We paid all of them until they all got unemployment.”

To make sure they all had spots when the bakery reopened, Roche and Benz decided to open a storefront in Manayunk to bring them all back

“We saw that the previous tenant, Sugar Philly on Main St was closing down and we had to jump on the opportunity,” she said. “I called the landlord and we opened the storefront. It has been great.”

Given the circumstances they were in, both wanted to slowly bring their staffers back in shifts so they can limit the number of customers they interact with.

“Right now, we are letting three customers in at a time, but we try to keep it going pretty quickly so that no one is in for too long,” she said.

Although Crust Vegan Bakery does not offer indoor dining at the moment, Manayunk is known for its parks and scenic views, so people can grab some tasty treats and take a seat on the grass — a perfect date for the fast-approaching Spring.

“We are so proud of the loving support that we received from the community, and that is a reason why we want to always give back,” she said.

Every holiday she and her business partner give 10% of their sales back to the community.

Some of the organizations that they have donated to in the past were Philly Community Bailout, Amistad Law Project, and Seeding Sovereignty — an indigenous advocacy organization based in Los Angeles.

“We are also going to make a free library inside of our bakeshop, it’s gonna be two shelves and you can come in and grab a book or leave a book, there is no monitoring,” she said.

On top of her charitable work, they also continue to create one-of-a-kind baked goods that serve anyone who has a sweet tooth.

“One of our best-selling desserts has to be our pop tarts, which is kind of nostalgic for a lot of our customers,” said Roche.

Another best selling item on the menu is their cinnamon buns that are cooked till golden brown then drizzled with tahini ‘cream cheese frosting.’

“We also want customers who don’t speak English that we do have two staff members who are bilingual, so don’t feel shy coming in,” said Roche.

Check out their bakeshop at 4409 Main Street in Manayunk!

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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