On the Menu: Phatties Bake Shop in Point Loma is sweet on vegan and gluten-free treats
Through serendipity I discovered Phatties Bake Shop while on a lengthy flight to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to visit my husband, Larry. The woman sitting next to me on the plane was “oohing” and “ahhhing” over a baked treat she had brought on board for the long journey.
Naturally, as a food writer and snoopy journalist, I asked what the hoopla in her mouth was all about. She said I must check out a charming little gluten-free bakery called Phatties, the brainchild of best friends Susan Madueno and Wayne West, who nabbed the Point Loma location during the risky peak period of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020.
“If we’re all going to die, I might as well do something I’ve always wanted to do,” West said at the time.
The quaint “sweetery” at 4143 Voltaire St. pulls you inside with white glossy cafe tables and chairs on the outdoor, dog-friendly patio, whimsically adorned with pink-and-white-striped umbrellas
reminiscent of strawberries and cream.
The inside of the shop giggles with a cutesy, cartoonish decor that resembles a page plucked from a Dr. Seuss book. Your eyes pop in all directions from the bright pink neon messages scrawled on the rose-patterned walls, the tones of pink and gold on the furnishings, the soft gray swirls drizzled in the white marble bar top, and a kitschy, midcentury, pink-tasseled Sputnik chandelier lending energy and a quirky vibe.
The black-and-white posters of legendary screen actors and politicians hilariously tatted-up by a Photoshop artist with a wacky sense of humor provides an “interesting contradiction of classic with new and edgy that reflects the kind of scene we’re trying to create,” Madueno said.
Madueno, who has a severe wheat allergy that she discovered in her 20s, was devastated as she tried to eliminate bread and all her favorite foods from her diet. “Gluten-free wasn’t a thing at the time,” she said. “I was starving, and all I wanted was a piece of bread to slather peanut butter on top.”
Over the years, she was inspired to scour gluten-free cookbooks and start baking at home, honing her culinary craft by necessity while experimenting with combinations of brown rice and almond flours, along with tapioca starch and flaxseeds to make cakes and other assorted baked goods light, fluffy and palatable.
When she and West, a professionally trained baker, began their collaboration, Phatties started as a jack-of-all-treats bake shop until Madueno persuaded him to cater to those with gluten gut like herself.
Soon their vegan and gluten-free Sundays became so popular, even among glutenphiles, that they phased out their regular menu items. Phatties now offers mostly vegan and gluten-free treats (except for the bagels, with Everything seasoning blend and jalapeno cheddar), and Madueno expects the bake shop soon will be fully converted.
Many of the flavorings and blends are curated in-house, such as vanilla extract made from Madagascar beans bathing in vodka for six months, lavender agave syrup and a variety of latte mixes.
These are all organic, and where possible, all other ingredients are sourced organically, such as the sugars and flours, including a blend of bean flours (lentil and chickpea), and the signature blend of brown and white rice and sorghum flours with tapioca and potato starches and flaxseed.
Phatties has a long list of gluten-free and plant-based or vegan options of baked pastries, quick breads, cakes, cookies and chia seed pudding. Favorites include the strawberry sprinkle doughnut, sugar-free chocolate banana loaf, spiced coffee cake, apple crisp, cupcake of the month — offered as a single or a six-pack (spring kicked off with lemon cake and ube lavender frosting) — the Phattie Daddy cookie filled with goodies of all manner, and the Hostess with the Mostest (re-creating the devil’s chocolate Hostess cupcake of the ‘60s).
While the 6-inch cakes include strawberry dream, red velvet, carrot, chocolate raspberry, rainbow pride, crispy lemon poppyseed and chocolate peanut butter, the simple vanilla happens to be the shop’s bestseller.
Madueno has a soft spot for a trio of items she calls her “babies.” The coffee cake created by the lead baker, Stephanie Buffington, starts with the signature rice flour blend, then adds brown sugar, vanilla and a confetti of warm spices. The blueberry scone has a silky coconut backbone, while the moist carrot cake filled with walnuts and smothered in a plant-based cream cheese frosting is a fusion of jazz improvisation and classical music in your mouth.
“The menu changes frequently based on our quirkiness and whims, experimenting and exploring and what we want our customers to try and enjoy,” Madueno said.
“We want to create an experience, not just a product,” West said.
Pets can share in the gluten-free action with a complimentary dog treat. And the menu is kid-friendly, offering juice boxes along with assorted lactose- and gluten-free cupcakes and the strawberry doughnut that particularly appeals to young taste buds.
Phatties offers online discounts and specials on packages or bulk orders, and if you drop by an hour or so before closing, you’ll get a discount on the baked goods.
“The menu changes frequently based on our quirkiness and whims, experimenting and exploring and what we want our customers to try and enjoy.”
— Susan Madueno
All these delicacies can go down with an icy or a hot drink. You might start with an organic Tuscan-style coffee, cappuccino or traditional cortado blending equal parts espresso and warm milk, then blanketed with a thin layer of foam.
The Golden Latte gives a blend of turmeric, sassy ginger and black pepper and earthy cardamom with a choice of regular milks or dairy-free oat, coconut, soy or almond. The Mermaid Matcha comes with organic matcha powder, spirulina and a pump of house-made vanilla agave syrup, all imparting a grassy sweetness along with a blue hue.
Though at first the bulk of Phatties’ customers were those with a gluten or lactose intolerance, Madueno said she has noticed an increasing number of customers without any dietary restrictions frequenting the shop, including locals, seasonal tourists and denizens of Del Mar, La Jolla, La Mesa, Poway, Escondido and more.
Though the shop has attracted a lot of attention from investors interested in expanding the Phatties brand, Madueno and West aren’t quite ready for that.
“We want to home in on perfecting our recipes and our processes before we expand,” Madueno said. “It’s always a work in progress. We started as something fun, and at the moment we want to create beautiful products and beautiful experiences for all our friends, whether vegan and gluten-free or not.”
Next year they plan to revisit the prospects for expansion.
Phatties Bake Shop
Where: 4143 Voltaire St., Point Loma
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
Information: (619) 376-0656, phattiesbakeshop.com
Gluten-free vegan blueberry scones
• 2 cups gluten-free flour (your choice)
• 2 tablespoons flaxseed
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ cup cane sugar
• ½ cup cold vegan butter
• ¾ cup oat milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• ¾ cup frozen blueberries
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• In a mixing bowl, blend flour, flaxseed, baking powder and sugar.
• Cut butter into flour to form pea-size clumps.
• Add oat milk and vanilla and mix well.
• Gently fold in blueberries.
• Flour a work surface and form triangles or circles.
• Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.
— Courtesy of Susan Madueno and Wayne West, Phatties Bake Shop