Just looking at Amanda Lunan’s cupcakes — smothered with chocolate peanut-butter icing — makes a girl’s mouth water and her taste buds tingle. And biting into them, well, that’s just orgasmic.
Lunan is a vivacious woman who sports funky hair and multicoloured tattoos. She is smart, funny and passionate about baking, and in one year she has turned baking into a hot topic, with her cupcakes fast becoming the sexiest treats in Ottawa.
Lunan has been baking all her life — from the age of four — and she credits her mother and her nana for her encouraging her in the kitchen. Lunan is nostalgic about her childhood and as she talks, anecdotes make their way into the conversation.
“When I was a kid, it was like going to the theatre and flouncing around downtown with Grandma, whereas with Nana, it was like hanging off of her apron and fighting for her attention with my 30 other cousins,” says Lunan.
With a penchant for baking, Lunan did manage to grab her nana’s attention. It was under her instruction that Lunan learned to mix ingredients and create edible bites of scrumptiousness.
Keeping simplicity in mind, Lunan has baked her way into a living, and today she is the owner of a funky bakery on Bronson St — Auntie Loo’s.
Auntie Loo’s has the look and feel of a home kitchen, and Lunan looks perfectly comfortable covered in flour dust with her hands deep in dough. She talks while mixing batter, scooping out gobs of butter (that looks like vanilla ice-cream) and walking back and forth from the oven to the cooling trays with large baking sheets of hot, fresh cupcakes.
When Lunan started her business she wanted to create a name and a place that made people feel comfortable and at ease.
“I am a really big fan of nostalgia, rockabilly in the ’50s and all that kind of stuff, so creating a really comfortable environment where people didn’t feel threatened was crucial,” says Lunan.
Auntie Loo’s is a far cry from Lunan’s first career. She moved to Ottawa from Burlington, where she studied photojournalism at Loyola College.
“It was at the time when I realized that my career in rock journalism wasn’t going to take off — fancy that,” says Lunan.
She started working in a coffee shop, and when a friend entered a craft bake sale at Ladyfest in 2004, Lunan realized there was potential to make a living from what she loved doing.
“That day the profit I turned was the same as the paycheque I was going to be getting from my coffee-shop job,” says Lunan.
Lunan put herself through school for the second time and graduated from the business program at Algonquin College in 2005. She then entered the youth entrepreneurship program through the YMCA — a government grant program that accepts 10 to 15 students annually. The program paid Lunan a salary while she got her business started — any money she made on the side was hers to keep — while offering her guidance as she put her business plan together.
Lunan also traded in her social life for a baking stint at Maison Baguettes — which is now closed — on Bank St. When the bakery closed for the night, Lunan swept in, cooked up a storm of tasty treats and then in the morning delivered her goods to various shops around town.
“I would bungee cord everything on the back of my bike — in a milk crate — and I would pedal everything to the health food stores and cafés that were buying from me,” says Lunan.
Now that Lunan owns her own shop, she begins her morning at the bright and early hour of 5am.
“My alarm goes off at 4am, then at 5am my boyfriend tells me to turn my alarm off or get out of bed. Then I get a really big coffee — like the size of my face,” says Lunan.
As soon as Lunan sets foot in Auntie Loo’s she begins baking: first the cupcakes so they can be frosted and then anything else that is on order. Simple deliciousness comes out of Auntie Loo’s ovens — cupcakes, brownies, lemon squares, scones, cakes of all sizes — and for any occasion — and, lately, her newest product, vegan croissants.
The vegan croissants were created and perfected by one of the Algonquin students that works for Lunan. The students have the technical skills, and Lunan teaches them how to adapt from dairy to a vegan way of baking.
“I am a very talented baker. I learned from my mom and all that, but I am not as skilled as my students,” says Lunan.
In exchange for coming up with new recipes — like the vegan croissants — Lunan offers her students a cut of the sales — an incentive to any aspiring pastry chef who can then add an original recipe to his or her baking portfolio.
At the moment, Auntie Loo’s employs five staff: three Algonquin students, one cashier and Lunan’s partner in cakes, Kate Veinot. Veinot is a cake designer and decorator and by Lunan’s testimony the most talented person in Ottawa.
All of Lunan’s staff are friendly and well versed in her values — that everyone be accepted for who they are.
“There’s no kids at Auntie Loo’s,” says Lunan. “We are all on the same playing field. It’s about being friendly and accepting of everyone who comes through the door.”
Lunan’s customers are varied. Many are from the queer community and have benefited from Lunan’s baking over the past couple of years. At nearly every major queer function, from Pride to fundraisers, Lunan is on hand giving out cupcakes and other tasty treats. At the end of each week, Lunan takes any remaining cupcakes to the drop-in lounge at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.
Auntie Loo’s is fast approaching its one-year anniversary. Lunan admits to going a little greyer and losing a lot of sleep, but she is happy with the growing success of Auntie Loo’s and is in the midst of planning a birthday bash to celebrate.
Auntie Loo’s caters to all kinds of tastes and is the place to go if you suffer any allergies. As well as being a vegan baker, Lunan tries to accommodate other peoples’ allergies and tastes — gluten-free treats are readily available, and if you have any other allergies — just let Lunan know and she will bake a miracle.
The one thing that anyone who walks into the bakery will discover is that Auntie Loo’s is a good place to be bad.
“There are certain days, I will be a super bad girl and I will get an in cream scoop and I will go to the fridge and I will scoop out a huge blob of the peanut-butter icing — which I came up with about five years ago — and I will smear it all over a brownie or cupcake or whatever I can find, as long as the icing is the same height as the cupcake,” says Lunan.
Visit Auntie Loo’s Treats at 507 Bronson Ave. Closed Sunday and Monday. Tues – Fri, 3pm – 6:30pm;
Saturday, 8am – 2pm.