Vegan doughnut shop, Shanty Town, pops up throughout Madison

Enjoy plant-based treats at Johnson Public House and Ledger Coffee Roasters.
Level 5’s donuts come in a variety of flavors including chocolate, blueberry lemon and plain glazed.

Aaron Mooney, owner of Shanty Town, a plant-based, pop-up doughnut shop, decided several years ago to go vegan for a month and there was no looking back. “When I switched I knew that was exactly what I was going to continue doing,” Mooney says. Mooney’s wife and business partner, Caitlin Rockey, wasn’t so sure. “When I told Caitlin I was going vegan she said, ‘you do whatever you want but I’m not giving up cheese,’” says Mooney.

“[Wisconsin] is where I’m from,” says Rockey. “Cheese curds are in my veins.” But it wasn’t long before Rockey embraced a 100% plant-based diet. “We felt better, we looked better … our son’s eczema cleared up. And it was cheaper,” Rockey says.

Both with culinary backgrounds—Rockey attended the French Pastry School in Chicago and opened the Girl and the Goat as the pastry chef while Mooney went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York City and worked in fine dining—the pair met in Chicago before moving several times and landing in Walla Walla, Washington.

In Walla Walla they decided to open Shanty Town, a vegan biscuit business they ran out of a shack in a food truck parking lot. Mooney grew up in Mississippi and has always had a fondness for breakfast food. “Biscuits and gravy is what I grew up with,” Mooney says. “My father worked out of town a lot but when he was in town we would wake up and drive to the Flying J Truck Stop and eat at the Country Buffet.”

Rockey and Mooney loved operating the biscuit business but Rockey missed the Midwest and wanted to be closer to family. After a serendipitous afternoon spent calling the Department of Motor Vehicles, Mooney and Rockey packed up their son, Harrison, now 5, and headed back to Wisconsin. Living on Madison’s east side, Rockey says they have found home. “Madison has been great, it’s everything we’ve been chasing,” she says.

When Rockey and Mooney arrived back in Wisconsin about a year ago they knew they wanted to keep Shanty Town going but didn’t have the funds to open their own spot right away (the couple dreams of opening a vegan diner on Madison’s east side in the not too-distant future). With full-time jobs—Mooney works at Bar Corallini and Rockey at Batch Bakehouse—they also needed something they could do on the side but decided biscuits would be too tricky to sell out of someone else’s space. The answer was vegan doughnuts. “We figured if we sold doughnuts on the weekend we could get our name out there,” Rockey says.

While doughnuts are typically made with butter, eggs and milk, Shanty Town’s plant-based doughnuts are made with vegetable shortening, flax meal and flax milk. The doughnuts—flavors rotate but can include chocolate, plain glazed, maple candy pecan, lemon poppy seed and blueberry lemon—now pop up on Fridays and Saturdays at Johnson Public House and Wednesdays through Sundays at Ledger Coffee Roasters in Garver Feed Mill. The doughnuts have also been available at Macha Tea Company and the Victory (check Shanty Town’s Instagram page for up-to-date information.)

Business has stayed steady despite the pandemic. “If anything it has allowed us to focus our energy more on Shanty Town and start to develop a game plan for the future,” Mooney says. “It’s been really great to see the joy we have brought to people during such a time. If the people of Madison are happy than so are we.”