The owners of Skull and Cakebones, a bakery and market outside of Austin, Texas, have built a brand around being authentically themselves. Sascha Biesi and Yauss Berenji founded their company to spread kindness through food, starting with plant-based, allergen-free baked goods inspired by their daughter’s severe allergies.
“At Skull & Cakebones we see a lot of people who have different allergies,” Sasha said. “It’s really important for [our staff] to know [what we are feeding you] because the customer expects it… Our mission is that if we don’t give it to our children, we won’t give it to you.
It was equally important to Sascha and Yauss to provide a safe space for clients with similar stories and values to theirs, especially other LGBTQ people and people with mental illness. As the business grows, the couple continues to support these causes close to their hearts to expand their community.
It is necessary to have some separation between your professional life and your personal life to maintain your sanity. But as the public face of your business, your personality can also be your superpower. Below, Sascha and Yauss share their thoughts on how they intertwine their company’s brand with their own identities.
1. Associate with people who share your values
On your small business journey, as with your mental health journey, you don’t have to go it alone. Whether you turn to a trusted mentor, other small business leaders, or organizations that share a common interest, the support of others can help you overcome challenges and prevent burnout.
“For me, raising awareness about mental health issues is really important as someone who myself has suffered from mental health issues all my life,” Sascha said. “I believe that by telling my story, it paves the way for other people to tell their stories.”
To spread his message, Sascha contacted National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to host a “depressed baking” pop-up at Skull & Cakebones in 2018 – joining a national community of bakers who create pastries to talk about depression in an accessible way. In keeping with the theme, Sascha’s creations were decorated with gray icing on the outside but bursting with color on the inside.
This is just one of the ways Sascha opens up to customers, hoping to set an example and help them feel comfortable in the shop. “The struggle is real, and the stigma is real, and I want to be part of the change in mental health stigma,” she said. “I want Skull & Cakebones to be a platform where people are surprised that they can walk into a bakery and talk about how they feel.”
2. Embrace your authentic voice
Social media users are looking for business owners with an authentic voice, not a neatly curated Instagram feed. As Social Media Manager for Skull and Cakebones, Yauss channels his own personality and publishes with as much transparency as possible. For example, the team recently shared its deep disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, writing, “It’s normal not to be well right now.
“The more honest and real I was in sharing my voice via social media, the better the response,” Yauss said. “It was great to see Sascha through the mental health stuff, allowing me to use her voice [on our social media] because it was a big deal for her and being able to tell her story because of the stigma and fear that was attached to it. So now I’m just like, ‘Go ahead.’
In fact, the Yelp reviewer Kate S. found Skull & Cakebones by following their Instagram page, proving once again that your social media presence is crucial to building both brand reputation and a following. “I think their use of Instagram is really powerful because they’re able to message on their platform,” she said. “It really made me feel at first, like I wanted to support them, and also like I had a safe space.”
Increasingly, customers like Kate are spending with their values. Using your online platform to highlight issues that matter to you can resonate with customers and make them more comfortable entering your space.
Kate said: “Authenticity is number one for me. It’s the foundation of my existence and it’s also where all my mental health issues come from. Seeing them proud, loud and pleading for [mental health on social media]…is huge.”
For Yauss and Sascha, activism is not just part of their business, it is essential to their identity. Dripping Springs, Texas is a mostly rural town with a much more chatty background than neighboring Austin. Being transparent about their values was a way for the Yauss and Sascha to begin to develop bonds, and soon, a community.
“When we moved to where we are now, just west of Austin, I was afraid to put anything rainbow on the door because I didn’t know who our community was. “Yauss said. “And from the outside, looking inside is kind of scary as an LGBTQ+ person, but as we’ve been more open about it, we’ve learned that actually everyone really loves. And there are a lot more people who are part of our community than we thought. So why not be proud and open about it? »
These gestures can be as small as putting a Pride flag on the door or as big as hosting a depressed pastry pop-up. The key is to stay true to who you are. “Community is at the heart of what we do and always has been,” said Sascha. “I think by honestly being who we are, we’ve created this space.”
And as Kate discovered when she first set foot in Skull & Cakebones, the passion and authenticity of a business owner trickles down to the customer. “I feel like I’m going to a friend’s house,” she says. “When you walk in, you have this feeling of relief from [it] be a safe space—[it feels that way] even on the internet.
Interviews by Emily Washcovick; pictures of Skull & Cakebones
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the review, the weekly podcast from Yelp & Entrepreneur Media. Listen below for more from Kate, Sascha and Yauss, or visit the episode page for more, subscribe to the show and explore other episodes.
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