Beautiful, ethical Planthropie vegan dessert and cheese shop checks all the boxes
Planthropie is a new dessert and cheese shop that makes vegan, raw, dairy-free, gluten-free, organic food that is free of refined sugar and made from ethically sourced ingredients.
That's a whole lot of boxes checked for those who have special dietary needs. And just as important, the cakes and cheese at this new Birmingham shop taste good and look beautiful.
Mini cakes made of nuts, natural sweeteners and fruit are on the menu, along with bliss balls which are dense, flavorful bites in varieties like pumpkin spice, pistachio rose, peanut butter chocolate and coconut. Order the "cheese" by the brick (3 ounces) or half brick in flavors such as white truffle, aged dill, pesto and more.
I write "cheese" because it's vegan; it's not the dairy product as we know it, made from the milk of animals. Made with fair-trade organic cashews, it's not trying to mimic cheddar or goat cheese, but instead is presented as its own unique product. It's spreadable with good texture, almost like a paté, and it's lightly flavored; it doesn't beat you over the head with a nutty taste.
The single-serving cheesecakes have a pop of fruit flavor and a creamy consistency, but don't leave you feeling heavy or give you a sugar crash like a traditional desserts might.
Everything in the tiny, stark-white cafe seems to be placed with purpose, from the straight rows of neatly made cakes to the perfectly piled bliss balls.
Planthropie founder Rua Francis Oshana said she was inspired to make vegan desserts and cheese when she learned her newborn son, now 4, was severely allergic to dairy.
"It was like a wake up call for my husband and I to start our journey together and going the route where we go plant-based and dropped the things we were truly in love with, the cheese, the eggs … cheese is my biggest hang up because I was a former cheese connoisseur so it was really difficult," she said.
Oshana, who runs Plantrophie with her sister and mother, said she saw a void in vegan foods that were pure and clean that she felt comfortable giving to her baby, so she started experimenting at home. This led to selling Planthropie's cheese, cakes and other treats at pop-up events and farmer's markets.
"We found out that more than 85% of our clients were not even people that were particularly vegan, but it kind of attracted people from all walks and dietary choices," she said.
Beyond being vegan, free of refined sugar and wonderful to look at, she wanted her treats to actually be beneficial to all people involved, from the human that grew the cacao bean to the person consuming the cake on the shelf.
This explains the price points. The mini cakes are $10, and a two-cheese flight with crackers is $15. But considering the organic, free trade nuts used to make them are on the higher end of the spectrum, plus the cost of the compostable, biodegradable packaging they're served in, it's clear you're paying for more than a snack.
"What are we trying to invest in? An empty calorie intake, or do you want to invest in your health and your body at the end of the day," said Oshana, who at one point was on a path to becoming doctor, and later studied dental hygiene. "We always think that bigger is better ... it's small but it's mighty. It's the exact amount that we need."
It's not the run-of-the-mill business model, but it's something worth trying. There aren't a lot of high-end vegan dessert shops, and Planthropie may be the only one focusing on desserts and cheese — they also have a coffee, tea and other drinks — in the country that is also gluten-free, organic and ethically sourced.
Like the name implies — the words "plant" plus "philanthropy" — it's a plant-based food business that also promotes helping others.
"Really taking it deeper to plant goodness in the world and to use food and plants as medicine to propel kindness and awareness in the choices that we make," she said.
The next step for the business is building a pantry of like-minded grocery items to sell in a corner at the Birmingham cafe, but with the pandemic going on she's not sure when that will launch.
Planthropie, 135 Pierce in Birmingham, is open for carryout noon-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and noon-7 p.m. Sun. Call ahead of time or walk-in and order. Call (248) 839-5640 or visit planthropie.com.