by Emma Lower
“I love to bake … but I didn’t open the business to be a baker,” says Lara de la Rosa, the 23-year-old head pastry chef at the vegan Lazy Cow Bakery in Fremont.
Instead, de la Rosa is a theorist putting her vision of a worker-owned, woman- and Latinx-centered world into practice. Lazy Cow doubles as a mutual-aid organization and Latinx cultural center called La Casa del Xoloitzcuintle. Perhaps it’s the vegan raspberry almond croissant she has already offered me, or the red roses on her kitchen table, her anecdotal humor and light laugh, but she has the distinct aesthetic of being fully alive.
De la Rosa quit her job as a biochemist at the University of Washington to open Lazy Cow full-time after she saw a need for vegan foods and community space in Seattle’s Latinx community. The brick-and-mortar just opened after two years of preparation, and currently de la Rosa is in the kitchen 14 hours a day, seven days a week. Starting a bakery from scratch has allowed her to rethink every aspect of the typical business profit structure.
“Mainly what I wanted to build was a community space, and making the money is only the side objective, because it’s more about: ‘What do we do with the money?’” de la Rosa says.
The bakery already has a community fridge, which allows anyone to pick up food as needed, and her aspirations include opening the kitchen to BIPOC groups and permablitzing — where a group of people rapidly transforms empty public space into a garden with free food. De la Rosa describes what she’s doing as largely meeting needs that she observes within her communities.
In addition to showing educational films by women and BIPOC directors, she plans to host special music nights and other events. She notes that while responding to challenges within her communities is important, celebration is just as vital. “I’m not a hedonist by any measure, because obviously I work a lot … but at the end of the day, I think we should all be doing less of that,” she says.
Her embrace of pleasure and justice is evident in her vegan cakes, some of which contain dreamy piping and pearls. And de la Rosa’s ethos shows up in her worker-centered business.
While many restaurants and bakeries are facing labor shortages, de la Rosa has had to turn down a flood of people who have wanted to work for her. “I cannot hire them all … [but] I’ve literally had people come up being like ‘Save me from my job,’” she says.
Because of its positive work environment, Lazy Cow attracts people looking to escape toxic workplaces and low wages in the industry. She also notes how it’s not uncommon for women to be entirely absent from the kitchen line in a male-dominated industry. De la Rosa sees the flood of interest as an example of how the national focus on job creation misses the point: There isn’t just a need to address the labor shortage in the industry, but a giant need to create good jobs that are safe.
Lazy Cow currently has two employees and a group of volunteers for Casa del Xolo. De la Rosa’s priority is to give her employees higher pay and health care benefits and ultimately land co-op status. She plans to have employees vote on how to spend the bakery’s profit. Designing with an ethic by and for her employees — instead of the conventional approach of designing for a customer — has allowed de la Rosa to do things a little differently. De la Rosa stated Lazy Cow is the first in Seattle to make vegan conchas, tres leches, and flan. While ending cycles of violence was an initial driver for de la Rosa’s veganism, it’s also a broader part of her ethic that she’s building into the business itself.
De la Rosa recalls that at one point during her childhood, her mom had to decide between getting a raise at work and losing their food stamps because the poverty line was so low. It was like, “Why are we in the position of having to make those choices?”
That experience informed what she’s hoping to do now, including a potential plan for giving cash from the register to people in need, without being subject to requirements. While that would have obvious challenges, like quickly running out of money, she says, “That’s just one idea, you know; what I want to do is build a community self-sustainability, and just give ourselves the kind of creative liberties to try things.”
While the practical version of success looks like ensuring the business is solvent, ultimately de la Rosa says, “As far as success goes, I would say I’m trying not to think about myself.” She doesn’t have a simple profit-oriented definition of success. “I’m not trying to run a straightforward business,” says de la Rosa. Instead, she says employees should have control over their wages and be paid what “the employees think is right, based on how much time and effort, and what they think their labor is. They should have control over that.”
De la Rosa says, “I’m very comfortable in the abstract, and kind of like resting my belief in it, or kind of leaning on it.” There is a loneliness that comes with it all, but she believes it is temporary, especially as the responsibilities at the bakery become more shared. And she notes, “In my head I’m not alone, because who wrote the theory book I’m reading? And I’m learning from that company in Tacoma. Or like, we got a recipe sent from a vegan empanadaria in Santa Monica … and they’re like, ‘Hey, you’re a vegan, [and] you’re trying to make flan. Here’s our recipe.’ And that’s the recipe we use.”
De la Rosa describes the individualism she grew up with as “completely understandable, considering the circumstances I was in, but it’s been something that I need to unlearn as I’ve grown into adulthood because that’s not the kind of world I want to build. It’s not the kind of person I want to be.”
Instead, her work speaks to a generation trying to work towards an ideal future in a non-ideal world. She says it has taken enormous patience and has required not giving up, something that is “hard for young people to conceptualize too because we haven’t been alive that long.” Her community of volunteers and people she’s gotten to know since moving to Seattle has been transformational; it’s “[not just] friends, but like a real community of people that believe the same things you do, that are willing to go out of their way to help you, that are not afraid of work and discomfort.”
De la Rosa says, “I don’t think of it as me standing alone, because as soon as you go out there, and start asking for help … it’s just made me so much more positive about humanity because, you know, if you read the news you can just be constantly inundated with all the work that needs to be done, or all the bad things that are happening, and so it’s just a good way to combat climate grief, powerlessness, hopelessness, which I think [as a generation] — we need to deal with it.”
Emma Lower was most recently an editorial assistant at Boston Review. She holds a master’s degree from University of California–Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Yale. She grew up in Seattle and graduated from Garfield High School.
📸 Featured Image: The Lazy Cow Bakery team from left to right: Katie Ferguson, Lara de la Rosa, Phoebe Katz, Milo Citrino, Raiza de Vera, and Casodra Bulling. Photo courtesy of Lazy Cow Bakery.
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