LushLife Vegan Bakery is powered by plants

Carrie Seward’s vegan creations have found a faithful following in Madison.
slice of vanilla cake with raspberry jam
Photo by Nikki Hansen

LushLife Vegan Bakery proves it’s possible to satisfy your sweet tooth without sacrificing your diet or the quality of the indulgence.

“LushLife is for everybody,” says owner Carrie Seward. “It’s not just for people with sensitivities or people who need to be egg-free or dairy-free.”

Seward started LushLife in 2016, revamping a previous Bundt cake business to match her vegan lifestyle and incorporating all she learned in the Baking & Decorative Arts program at Madison College in 2016. LushLife had a slow start. Having moved to Madison from Rockford, Illinois, in 2012, Seward says her circle was small. Once she started selling her products in stores in 2017, LushLife grew rapidly.

carrie holding a cake

Photo by Nikki Hansen

“The consciousness of being vegan and plant-based is a little bit more [developed here] than what it was in Rockford,” Seward says. Support for LushLife has been positive here in Madison, even more so in the last few months with the increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, Seward says.

She makes the magic happen in her rented space at Christine’s Kitchens, a community kitchen on Madison’s east side. She bakes lemon, chocolate raspberry, peanut butter and other flavorful cakes, as well as cinnamon rolls, cookies and other sweets. She also creates savory items like quiche, rolls and potpies though Christine’s Kitchens.

chocolate rose on top of a cake

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Cooks and bakers use various products as substitutions when making vegan food. Nut milks, bananas and applesauce are just a few. Seward uses almond milk, and in place of eggs — aquafaba, which is the liquid from garbanzo beans. “That’s my magical ingredient that I use in all of my products that require an egg,” says Seward.

Creating vegan baked goods is important to Seward, both for the protection of animals and health reasons. She believes plant-based diets can reverse diseases. “That’s part of my mission — to educate,” Seward says. “To let people know, this is what happened to my family; this is how we corrected it.”

Chocolate layered cake

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Years ago, Seward moved her family toward a plant-based diet. Her son had severe joint inflammation and heart rhythm issues and was tested for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors went back and forth diagnosing him, she says. “It got to the point where doctors really didn’t know what was wrong with him,” Seward says. An alternative doctor suggested that a plant-based diet might help. Seward tried it and that helped her son fix his health issues. “It’s your child, you’d do anything, especially what you can control,” she says. “You’ll do it for your child.”

Their entire family ate plant-based because Seward didn’t want her son to feel like he was being punished. And they all have a sweet tooth, so Seward taught herself to bake plant-based treats. She says her family couldn’t tell the difference. “Since I loved it and had such a passion for it, I was like, ‘You know what, I know I’m not the only person/family in need of this.’ ”

plate of square cinnamon rolls

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Lisa Peyton-Caire, the founder, president and CEO of The Foundation for Women’s Wellness, has enjoyed LushLife baked goods for years. Her personal favorites include chocolate-strawberry mini cakes and the custom yellow cake with raspberry filling that Seward made for her birthday this year. “She even delivered it to me curbside, masked up, in the midst of COVID-19,” Peyton-Caire says. “It made my day and brought much-needed joy during a time where I had to rethink my celebration.”

mini bundt cakes

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Peyton-Caire says it’s “exceptionally rare and special” to have a Black- and female-owned vegan bakery in Madison. “Carrie is an example of the new enterprise that Black women are bringing to the table — shattering barriers and breaking into entrepreneurship at a higher rate than all segments of the population while living [their] passion,” she says. “Her product is excellent, is filling a need for quality vegan foods and her story and journey [are] powerful evidence of the role Black women play and can play in our local economy.”

plates of cookies

Photo by Nikki Hansen

LushLife has garnered the attention of vegan food influencer Tabitha Brown. Brown regularly shares recipes and lifestyle advice with her more than 2.8 million followers on Instagram. “In my head, she’s my best friend,” Seward says. Seward reached out to her “best friend” after watching her videos.

“I emailed her, and she hit me right back, got on my Instagram and picked out the type of cake she wanted.” Seward sent Brown a strawberry-vanilla cake, and then Brown recorded a video delightfully eating a slice and singing its praises in February 2019. Seward couldn’t believe it and shared the video on her LushLife Facebook page. “You never think that something you create out of love, that somebody else is going to love it, too,” she says. Seward says Brown was the first person to receive a national mail order from LushLife and that Brown encouraged her to do more. “When she made that video, I had such a positive response that I couldn’t even keep up with the orders,” Seward says.

bundt cake

Photo by Nikki Hansen

At the time, Seward hit pause on her mail orders for a year. With the help of an investor/business partner, she restarted mail orders around the time the coronavirus pandemic began. Seward’s first thought was that it wasn’t a good time to relaunch, but she changed her mind. “With all the turn of events, it was to my favor because everybody was at home and everybody wanted to order stuff,” she says.

Locally, you can find LushLife’s cake slices at all three Willy Street Co-op locations. You’ll soon be able to get cupcakes at the east side Hy-Vee. And you can order the baked goods from LushLife’s website or on the Christine’s Kitchens website.

carrie icing a cake

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Seward wants to continue growing LushLife, increase her national mail orders and become a household name. “You can’t just decide to do something and think small,” she says. “You need to know there is no roof, there’s no top, so I’m going as big as I can.”

Hywania Thompson is a Madison-based freelance writer.