Photos by Ashlie Acevedo.
Cookies. Brownies. Muffins. Cakes. The temptations are endless in the world of baked goods; and, perhaps to the surprise of some, Greensboro has become a popular breeding ground for posh bakeries to supply sweet treats to all.
Well, maybe not all.
The food landscape today can appear barren to people with diet restrictions and food allergies. Equally challenging is trying to find a sweet treat that doesn’t weigh us down with eternal guilt. Labels such as “vegan” and “gluten-free” are simultaneously repellant and increasingly cliché. The legitimate necessities behind those diets have been diluted with media and cultural overkill. They’re simply reduced to fad diets and, well, nothing more.
However, there are bright spots to be found in the growing “clean food” movement, and one of Greensboro’s very own is a remarkable trailblazer. Allison Royal is the intelligent and determined owner of the Wallflour Bakery, which is exclusively gluten-free and vegan. This one-woman show is a dedicated work of love and the source of some of the best baked goods in town. The bakery produces fluffy cakes, decadent brownies, chewy fruit bars, crisp cookies and more all at a quality high enough to please every palette.
Royal is very familiar with the challenges of meeting the needs of a special diet on a personal level. Having struggled physically and emotionally in her late teens, she found herself the recipient of many traditional medications and treatments that only exacerbated her problems. After multiple failures, she pursued a consultation with a naturopathic doctor who approached her conditions in a very different way. The end result was the elimination of gluten, dairy and soy from Royal’s diet, and she returned to full, well-rounded health with a better understanding of herself.
Today, Royal shines bright doing what she loves. Baking since she was a young girl, she recalls her first attempt at brownies when she had a chocolate craving. Her mother showed her that she had all of the ingredients for brownies at her disposal, and that it was up to her to make something of them. The resulting brownies may not have been five-star quality, but the challenge turned out to be a milestone.
The self-proclaimed foodie and “science nerd” recognized then how baking is an opportunity to create and explore, and her joy of discovery has continued to help her along the way. There are strong food roots in Royal’s family tree—what she says “echoes in my DNA”—and she draws many comparisons to her grandmothers.
Upon discovering how severely food impacted her daily wellness, Royal reluctantly stepped away from baking and found herself in the same landscape void of quality options (if any options) for sweets. A turning point came for her at age 21 on a visit to New York City where she stumbled upon Erin McKenna’s Bakery, which is dedicated to producing gluten-free and vegan goodies. Royal purchased the bakery’s cookbook on the spot.
She realized that she could make quality food within her dietary restrictions that was better than what is typically found at the big box grocery stores. “I didn’t like buying those things, and I don’t want to give those to people,” she says, noting how many national brands produce crumbly, gluten-free goods using nutritionally-void rice flour and copious amounts of sugar to compensate for poor flavor.
As a do-it-yourself kind of girl, Royal used the cookbook recipes and internet resources as starting points but quickly moved into experimenting with her own flavor ideas, ingredient substitutions and flour combinations. Ever the dedicated kitchen scientist, she’d work for hours on end recreating and tweaking the same recipe over and over until it finally met her standards. Having lived with and without dietary restrictions, she knows that “it’s important to make something that’s not just gluten-free and vegan.” The food has to be more than a trendy label.
‘I want for anybody to want it, be able to eat it and have it taste good,’ and she makes just that happen.
Within a couple of bites of a blueberry nirvana bar while chatting with Royal, her passion for her work glows, and it’s apparent that love is the secret ingredient. “I’m a big believer in meditation,” she says. “And when you’re cooking, it’s kind of methodical. I really like putting my thoughts and energy into the food.”
In her three and a half years of operating under the Wallflour Bakery name, she has encountered numerous skeptics to her methods. She responds to each of them with a smile and a free sample. The same skeptics have since reformed, returning time and time again to purchase handfuls of treats from her table at the Corner Farmer’s Market.
More than the focus on vegan and gluten-free recipes, Royal’s passion is in making something people can feel good about eating. “I really feel like our bodies are much more resilient than we give them credit for,” she says. “As long as we put whole foods into our bodies that don’t have all of the corn syrup and preservatives and dyes.”
With this foundation, she strives to create baked goods that are both wholesome and homemade. She uses only organic ingredients and gets as much as she can locally, including from her own herb garden. Additionally, the recipes are built around eating seasonally, “It’s important to be in touch with nature and the seasons,” she explains. “And I think that what you eat definitely translates into that.”
Of course, this also means that the fruits and vegetables she uses are in their prime. These ingredients are recognizable and largely guilt-free. Royal’s food beliefs are rooted in the ideas of balance and mindful eating. She believes it is important for people “to feel good about it [but] not to obsess.” From her own experiences, she learned that there is no need to deprive yourself in the name of nutrition; you just have to “give yourself the right stuff.” Royal also warns about the “judgmental” side of the clean eating community and “leading people down a bad path.” There is no room in her world for shaming as she makes baked goodness for all.
If your young business is growing faster than expected, there are no complaints—but Royal is mindful of growing at a manageable pace in order to maintain her quality standards and the homemade feel she loves. She continues to develop self-management skills as her own boss, which has turned out to be a very different and unexpected challenge than the baking itself. When she first took the plunge to make baking her full-time endeavor, Royal worked at a mad pace with wild hours. She recognized that baking would be the platform to get her message out there with health and wellness. “I know that you can really heal a lot of things through your diet,” she says.
These days she makes an effort to work what many people would consider “normal” hours of Monday through Friday, plus Saturday mornings. However, Royal describes herself as “fortunate” and is quick to explain that the time is a small price to pay for the rewards. The moments are more than she can count, and she beams with pride to tell them. It is in the new customer doing a happy dance upon learning that everything for sale is vegan and gluten-free. It is the mother thanking Royal for making her young daughter a birthday cake when the girl would not otherwise have a cake due to gluten intolerance. Time and time again, the work pays for itself.
Royal’s determination and drive know no bounds, and she hopes to expand. Her visions for the future include opening a storefront and hiring assistant bakers to help meet current and increasing demands. One of her hopeful resources to reaching that goal is a GoFundMe page she started earlier this year.
Royal has ventured into taking custom orders, which has become a fun and creative channel for her “wonky design style.” This is also a way for her to connect more closely with her customers and the community. “I enjoy taking the time to hear what they’ve been missing and what they want,” she says. “And I’ll just create it for them.” As another step towards providing baked goods for all, she’d also like to offer baking classes one day and work more closely with children.
Allison Royal’s work of love is truly a standout in the city’s bakery offerings. Her Wallflour Bakery products can be found all over Greensboro’s hot spots, including Vida Pour Tea, Common Grounds, Deep Roots Market, Tate Street Coffee House, Urban Grinders and Emma Key’s Flat-Top Grill as well as the Corner Farmer’s Market. She continues on her mission to encourage people to treat themselves while maintaining balance and mindfulness practices in all areas of wellness—because in the end, “life is too hard to take seriously. So, have a cookie.”