By Brenda De Los Santos
When Tiffany Shultz’s son was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG), an incurable neurological autoimmune disease in 2016, she had no idea that it would lead her to opening her incredibly popular new Pawcatuck, Connecicut vegan cupcake and ice cream shop, Dutch’s.
In 2018, Shultz, who has followed a vegan diet for over eight years, was fundraising for MG, and decided to offer vegan cupcakes in exchange for donations. People loved them, and Shultz, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, decided to pursue her own business selling her vegan confections. She named it Dutch’s, which is her son Jake’s nickname.
Featuring classic cupcake flavors like chocolate and vanilla, a rotating monthly menu that has included strawberry shortcake, Biscoff Boston cream, and lavender Earl Grey cupcakes as well as vegan soft serve ice cream, Dutch’s, which opened it’s brick and mortar location in July of this year, has proven to be a success. Their bakery case sells out regularly, and their vegan soft serve has been an unexpected hit as well. “It was kind of meant to be a side item and not a main menu item,” says Shultz, "but there are a lot of people that want that and it’s been super popular.”
Initially, Shultz would burn the midnight oil baking her cupcakes overnight after working a shift at her full time job as an 911 dispatcher, and sold her cupcakes at local farmers markets. Then, she started offering them at the now-closed Cafe Otis in Norwich, and La Belle Aurore in Niantic. Online orders followed, thanks to La Belle Aurore, who also gave her use of their kitchen to bake in, offering their location as a pickup point for her customers.
In December 2019, Shultz didn’t know what kind of future Dutch’s had, as her son faced a health crisis and her business was put on hold while he was hospitalized. By February, he was back home and doing well, and Shultz was gearing up to finally open a brick and mortar shop in Groton with the help of an SBA loan. However, the March day she signed the lease for her new location was the same day that the state of Connecticut announced shut downs due to COVID-19. With the SBA not fulfilling loans during the initial uncertainty that the pandemic brought, Shultz’s plans were brought to a dead stop. Shultz explains, “We didn’t know anything about COVID. Moving forward they didn’t know how an SBA loan would work, so I went back to work [as a dispatcher] full time in New London.”
But then in May, her business advisor called her and let her know her deal was still on the table, if she wanted it. She started her search for locations anew, and stumbled onto a Facebook Marketplace listing for a location in Pawcatuck with a commercial kitchen, equipment included. Shultz says, that it “seemed like scam,” but she went to look at it anyway. “I thought it wouldn’t be anything, but there was a full kitchen, I just had to bring in furniture and mixers.” Feeling more comfortable about taking the risk of opening a new location in the midst of a pandemic, she initially thought it would be used as a kitchen only, but as she moved forward, it spun into storefront for her cupcakes. And, feeling the supportive and friendly vibe of the neighborhood, she thought, what if we did ice cream here too?
Having had her eye on the certified vegan gourmet ice cream cones made by woman-owned and Brooklyn-based The Konery for some time, Dutch’s serves soy-based vegan soft-serve that is as, if not more, delicious than it’s dairy-based counterparts. Cones are served with unlimited toppings, and they also offer floats, milkshakes, and a secret menu that social media followers are privy to.
Shultz credits the universal appeal of cupcakes with helping her to spread the word that vegan food is delicious. While many of her customers have plant-based diets and are so excited to have a place to go where they can walk in and choose anything on the menu, there are also plenty who are not vegan. “I’ve seen every demographic from every walk of life come in here and they all have a different reason for doing it,” she says, “[Vegan food] can be delicious and fun and photo worthy.”
Even despite that, Shultz has been blown away by the neighborhood support she has seen, including a philanthropic community member who introduced her to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and even bought her a new oven when the oven in the shop broke a day before their grand opening. Support from customers has been overwhelming too, with Shultz saying she was not mentally prepared for how busy they would be. “If there’s a dope place that has good vegan food, I’ll drive an hour, but it’s insane to me that people will come an hour to come see us — it’s absolutely insane,” she says, “I thought there was a need for it but I didn’t know what the demand was.”
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did. I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
With vegan diets becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Shultz is part of an ever-growing cohort for whom the environment, animal rights and health are at the forefront of their decisions to follow a plant-based diet. Shultz explains “From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe our bodies are meant to ingest dairy or animal products. As somebody who has cut those things out you feel the difference. Something is better when you start eating more fruits and vegetables.” With that ethos, she focuses on quality ingredients, like high-quality vegan dark chocolate, plant butter, house made sauces and fresh fruits. She spends the time needed to whip frosting and batter so the final product is light and cakes are super fluffy.
When asked about how people see Dutch’s, she thinks that customers may be surprised, either because they are vegan and haven’t been able to find great vegan desserts locally or because they are not vegan and were expecting to not like it. She says they will be elated to have have somewhere to come in and not have to modify every order, and they will feel welcome. Shultz tries to greet every customer who walks into the shop, and strives to treat them like guests in her home and wants her customers to constantly feel appreciated.
When thinking about the future of her business, Shultz looks back to it’s beginnings as a fundraiser for myasthenia gravis. “It all started for MG,” she says, “and I still regularly donate to them personally.” She wants to start doing fundraisers, with something on the horizon next year in June, which is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. She also hopes to be able to support local hospitals, who have made an impact on her family as well.
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did,” Shultz says. “I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
Dutch's is located at 2 Prospect Street, Pawcatuck, CT. Their hours are 12:00-8:00pm, Thursday through Saturday. Learn more on their website, Facebook or Instagram.