Mike Landers churns out tasty vegan sweets
by Dana Henry
Mike Landers, founder of North Port Fishington Cookie Factory, is part of a generation of vegan bakers rewriting your grandma’s recipes. Those who’ve tasted the chewy oatmeal-cashew-cranberry cookie, the gooey chocolate peanut butter-frosted brownie or the ever-fluffy cinnamon roll have been known to exclaim, “I can’t believe this is vegan.” Landers takes the left-handed compliment in stride. “People have traditionally been less exposed to stuff that’s good and vegan,” he says. “They sometimes assume it’s gonna be some kind of weird health food cookie instead of this rich sugary treat. But it can be done. Just by recipes being out there in the world, people begin to experiment.”
Young, urban and with no professional culinary experience, Landers is a textbook example of how local vegan fare has flourished. Three years ago, he was just another devoted vegan living in the former industrial neighborhoods of eastern North Philly (hint: say Northern Liberties-Port Richmond-Fishtown-Kensington three times fast), teaching himself to cook wholesome vegan meals. His sweet tooth demanded he learn how to bake, so he started messing around with cookie recipes.
Pretty soon friends were stopping by for dairy-free deliciousness. Then friends of friends, owners of neighborhood coffee shops and cafés, began requesting his treats in bulk. Armed with increased confidence as a baker and salesperson, Landers eventually started approaching vendors cold, armed with cookie samples. Greensgrow Farmers’ Market gave him his first big break, allowing him to sell directly to customers.
For the last year or so, the Factory has been based out of Philly Kitchen Share, a shared commercial kitchen at 15th and South Streets. Things were getting a bit crowded there, so this month Landers is moving operations back to his namesake neighborhood, taking over a kitchen in Kensington. The plan is to eventually move into Greensgrow’s temporarily-stalled Philadelphia Incubation Community Kitchens project.
Landers sells between 700 and 1,000 pieces weekly to local shops, including six varieties of cookies (chocolate-walnut, double chocolate-chip, ginger molasses, snicker-doodle and peanut butter), brownies, peanut butter rice-crispy treats, muffins and buns. He has also ventured into less traditional territory with April Fool’s “Gluten Free Maple Bacon Doughnuts” and bright green Cinco de Mayo Guacamole cookies. Experimentations aside, the light, fluffy, egg-free cinnamon buns remain the baker’s crowning glory. (Anyone who’s ever baked without dairy knows the tendency towards density).
Landers’ bulk ingredients—cane sugar and flax seeds (used in every cookie)—are fair trade and organic whenever possible, and he’ll soon be baking with Daisy Flour, milled in Lancaster County.
North Port Fishington Cookie Factory goods are available at Almanac Market, Soy Cafe, Higher Grounds, Bennas, B2, the Last Drop, Flying Saucer, Milkboy, Satellite, Mariposa, Greensgrow (seasonally), Weaver’s Way (Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill), Red Hook Coffee, Rocket Cat and Leotah’s Place.