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Interview with Business Owner Ashley Bender of Sugar High Vegan Bakery

Photos and art direction by GHOST ROCK creative lead Sally Jean Wegert. Hair and makeup by Elle Dale (follow @elledotell on IG)

baker working in the kitchen with a brightly colored cake on the counter
Ashley Bender baking in the kitchen by GHOST ROCK creative lead Sally Jean Wegert

What is the philosophy of the vegan diet from your perspective? 

Being vegan to me is more than just diet but it's a lifestyle. I chose to go vegan for the animals and the planet, not for health or diet reasons (even tho that has its own set of benefits that come with it) Being vegan goes beyond the diet and stands against the exploitation and cruelty of animals all around. Veganism should always be intersectional and we should fight and advocate for liberation of  ALL lives.

Woman holding colorful cupcake and five joints in front of a pink background. Photo by Sally Jean Wegert.
Ashley Bender displays a vegan cubcake. Photo and art direction by GHOST ROCK creative lead Sally Jean Wegert.

Why make sweets and pastries? Do you also enjoy cooking regular meals?

I've always had an obsession with candy and desserts and all things whimsical. I grew up in Albuquerque, NM where I got my first job at a local bakery and from then on I never wanted to look back! I loved everything about it. I loved walking in at 6 a.m. to the smell of fresh baked desserts, bread and coffee. I worked at this bakery and it became my sanctuary, I LOVED my job and spent most of my time there. I was young and didn't have proper training so I was not able to bake or decorate myself at the time, but just being in the presence of it all warmed my soul. From there forward, I moved a couple times state to state and all through my journey continued working in bakeries, learning and absorbing everything I could. My dream was to always have my own bakery but I truly didn't think it would ever be possible, and sometimes I'm still shocked that I'm actually doing this somehow. I do love to cook regular meals, but I did not go to culinary school so I don't know any proper techniques and I use way too much salt. When I cook, I do really enjoy plating things and making art out of it.

A colorful decorated cake on a table covered in decorations and other pastries
A colorful vegan cake by Sugar High. Photo and art direction by GHOST ROCK creative lead, Sally Jean Wegert.

What has been the biggest challenge starting a business in the food industry? 

I would say the biggest challenge of starting a business would be that I'm starting up during a global pandemic and civil uprising and I have no clue what I'm doing. I never imagined that I would open a business under these circumstances. I just officially registered my LLC in late July. I did not go to college, my mom lives out of state and I am an only child. I don't have many people to help guide me or help so I've had to do a lot of work and research on my own. I am lucky that Stanley Chase of LVJCO and Morels has acted as a mentor to me. With so many restaurants closing during these hard time it's easy to feel discouraged and scared for the future, but I really don't have any other choice but to do this full force and hope for the best. Despite the circumstances I could not be more excited and happy to be doing this, I love my job! (and being my own boss).

What advice would you give a young baker just starting out? 

The advice I'd give to a young baker (who wanted to open their own business) would be to gain work experience! Get a job in a bakery, continue working in bakeries and study the way they operate. Day dream about your own bakery, imagine what it would be like with all your senses. Bake at home and experiment. Watch YouTube and teach yourself new skills. It's really all about having the right tools/equipment!

Bag of cake mix sitting on colorful table with a vegan cupcake
Vegan Cake Mix by Sugar High. Photo and art direction by Sally Jean Wegert.

What is your favorite cake you've ever made?

My favorite cake that I've ever made would have to be the wedding cake I made for my best friend Nico. It was 3 tiers tall, colorful and silly. I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted, and because she is my best friend and I know her so well, I was able to really have fun with it. I enjoy using bright colors and nontraditional designs. I definitely have my own style of decorating so I love when customers allow me the creative liberty.

woman standing in front of sequin wall wearing a blue dress
Ashley in Wonderland. Photo and art direction by Sally Jean Wegert.

Where can people find your sweet treats?

I do not have a storefront currently so the best way to try my treats is by ordering or reserving. You can order my signature desserts at I require one week notice for all orders and I also ship my cake mix nationwide! Custom orders/catering inquiries can be sent to You can also find my desserts at Morels Cafe, Shahar Cafe and I'm hoping to gain more wholesale accounts. All updates are always posted on my Instagram page so make sure to follow that!

Thank you Ashley! We can't wait to try your vegan treats.

Follow: @sugarhighlouisville @elledotell @ghostrockdigital @louveganjerky @shaharcafe

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