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Treats for all: Holly Bakes! proves delicious donuts can be vegan too

Holly McKinlay hopes vegans and gluten-free eaters donut give up on baked goods

Holly McKinlay believes donuts are for everybody.

So she founded Holly Bakes! to make sure everyone is welcomed to feel good about eating a treat.

“It started as a passion project to share what I love to do,” said McKinlay. “And make treats that everybody can enjoy.”

Holly Bakes! is a vegan bakeshop located in the Collingwood/Blue Mountain area. McKinlay’s current specialty: cake donuts with a vegan and gluten-free twist. 

Growing up in the kitchen, McKinlay has always had a passion for making food. She started working back-of-house in restaurants when she was 15 years old, and is now a full-time, Red Seal certified chef in the South Georgian Bay area. 

In 2005, she made the decision to become a vegetarian, and she has had a growing passion for vegan baking ever since. 

“I’ve been baking my whole life, so I found it very fun to take classic recipes and turn them vegan,” said McKinlay.

Holly Bakes! started unofficially in 2018 as a creative outlet for the Collingwood-local, who was working in a kitchen at Blue Mountain Resort at the time. 

“Basically, being in a male-dominated industry… I needed something of my own,” said McKinlay. “Some way I could prove myself. I am not an idiot, I can put something together.” 

It was at a time when “cupcakes were hot,” so she randomly took her chance at donuts. She already knew she wanted to make them vegan, and started to dabble in gluten-free alternatives so the donuts were more accessible. 

“There were really not a lot of gluten-free and vegan options out there at the time, so there was the need for it,” said McKinlay. “I have always made vegan food but I have never avoided gluten before, so that was definitely scary at the start.”

More than anything, McKinlay is dedicated to inclusivity. She doesn’t care what you eat or don’t eat or how you identify, she simply wants everybody to feel good about — and be able to — enjoy a treat. 

“I think it's important to inspire people to try vegan food and to encourage people in a non-judgmental, positive, constructive, and easily accessible way,” said McKinlay. “That’s the thing with veganism, I don’t think you have to be perfect."

But she has proven that you don’t need animal products in order for something to be delicious. 

Once McKinlay perfected her recipe, she partnered with the owners of Gibson & Company, a cafe and bar in downtown Collingwood, for a Family Day event in 2019. Her donuts were a hit. 

Holly Bakes! has been supplying Gibson & Co. with donuts on the weekend ever since. She also started an Instagram account to showcase her baked creations, and it took off. 

She currently makes six different donuts every week; four vegan, and two vegan and gluten-free. 

Over the past two years, McKinlay has attempted just about every flavour imaginable, including Earl Grey Maple, Edible Cookie Dough, Caramel Corn, Chip Crispies, Lemon and Lavender and Matcha Coconut, to name a few. McKinlay’s personal favourites are her two staples: Death by Chocolate and Confetti. 

“Inspiration comes from everywhere,” said McKinlay. “Holidays, what’s in season… other local businesses.”

McKinlay makes approximately 500 donuts every weekend, on top of working a demanding, full-time restaurant job and raising her 10-year-old daughter. 

“The donuts just fit in,” said McKinlay. “I think I put off the illusion that I am a team. I don’t think a lot of people understand I am just one person.” 

There have been weeks where McKinlay will work a 12-hour shift and then come home and hang out with her daughter for a few hours before diving into her baking — sometimes until 4 a.m. 

“I never thought it would take off as it has,” said McKinlay. “I never really thought about it as a business, I just wanted a creative outlet.”

She said her secret to staying afloat is asking for help. 

“We should all be utilizing all the creative sources in our community,” said McKinlay. “I think we should, as a community, rely on each other in that sense.”

And when it comes down to it, community and inclusivity is what Holly Bakes! was founded for. McKinlay has dreams of diving into her baking business full-time one day, but, for now, she is enjoying her partnership with Gibson & Co. and other companies in Collingwood. 

And while she will forever advocate that one’s worth should not be tied to their social media followers, she attempts to use her Instagram account as a platform for good — often partnering with other local businesses to offer giveaways or raise awareness for social issues.  

“There are so many businesses that are just starting out, so this way they can get out into the world too and tap into those followers,” said McKinlay. “I want to help any women in business in any way I can.”

As for the giveaways, she realized it was her “love language” — both in business and life. 

“It makes me happy to give things to people and meet new people. It makes someone’s day and that makes me happy,” said McKinlay. 

Still a full-time chef, McKinlay isn’t accepting custom orders at this time, but her donuts can be purchased at Gibson & Co. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and at the Flying Chesnut’s backyard market in Eugenia every Thursday evening. 

To learn more about Holly Bakes! or the weekly menu, visit her website.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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