Building a community, 1 vegan croissant at a time
Colin Anderson has big plans.
The founder of Eureka Compass Vegan Food in St. Paul is reacting to the enormous growth in the number of Americans adapting a meat- and dairy-free diet.
According to a 2020 study by Ipsos Retail Performance, which analyzes consumer behavior, there has been a 300% increase in the number of Americans who took up a vegan diet between 2005 and 2020, estimating that nearly 10 million Americans — nearly 3% of the population — are eating vegan.
With that in mind, Anderson has spent the past year marshaling resources to open a one-stop vegan supermarket.
"It's going to be the biggest vegan grocery store in the country," he said. "This is about sustaining a strong, thriving community."
Anderson's background and résumé appear to be tailor-made for this ambitious endeavor.
He grew up in his family's candy shop in Richmond, Ill., worked on an organic farm and then gained retail experience by spending a decade at Whole Foods Market before becoming a catering manager at Brasa.
He founded Eureka Compass four years ago. Since then it has evolved from a bodega with a bakery/cafe component into a handful of chef partners preparing some of the Twin Cities' most dynamic vegan fare, seven days a week. ("It's a hive-mind collective," said Anderson.)
As time passed, Anderson also discovered that the business had become the hub of a community. Not just Twin Citians, but visitors who make a point of placing Eureka Compass on their travel itineraries, the way shoppers make a beeline for the Mall of America.
They're certainly signing on to support Anderson's next endeavor. To date, his crowdsourcing campaign has drawn 550-plus donors and raised $45,000. Other funding sources are also in the works.
"I want to build this community resource for the world," said Anderson. "And I need everyone's help."
Although he claims that "there's not a mistake that I haven't made," one of Anderson's savviest moves was developing a signature product: vegan croissants.
Instead of the all-important butter, Anderson enlists a coconut oil-based vegan butter, and the tender, flaky, crescent-shaped results blossom in a well-worn pizza oven. The Saturday-only treats have fostered a cult following.
Eureka Compass is leaving its current home (629 Aldine St., St. Paul, eurekacompassveganfood.com) at the end of May. Its new format could emerge — hopefully remaining in the Midway neighborhood — by the end of the year.
"It's going to look very much like a traditional, modern-day co-op," said Anderson, adding that its seasonal produce emphasis will be supplemented by a wide-ranging inventory of vegan groceries.
"Nut butters, pastas, a freezer section with ice cream novelties and microwave meals, canned beans, a bulk section of dried pantry staples and seasonings, coffee, a refrigerator section with juices, vegan protein powders, vegan cheeses and other plant-based dairy substitutes, fair trade chocolates and body care products," said Anderson. "A place that in no way, shape or form funds animal slaughter, and a place where someone can do a week's worth of grocery shopping."
A deli will turn out sandwiches, soups, salads and other quick-service fare, and the bakery counter will, of course, showcase Anderson's croissants. Yes, the 42-year-old pizza oven will have a place of pride in the new location.
"It's a magic oven, and it's a big part of why those croissants are what they are," said Anderson.
The store will also feature a commercial kitchen, allowing producers to make their products on the premises and then introduce them to shoppers.
"I want to create opportunities for emerging vendors," said Anderson. "We need to break down those barriers to entry."
In other words, Anderson envisions a place for all.
"When you think about it, the majority of stuff in any grocery store is vegan," he said. "Have you ever had an apple? Have you ever had salsa? You don't have to do the post-doctorate curriculum on veganism. More and more people are enrolling in Intro to Vegan."