Focaccia sandwiches smeared with avocado pesto and pickled onions. Creamy banana tahini galette and spiced persimmon cake so well-flavored the scent of the flowering California tree ascends from the table. And all of it made without a bit of animal product, just the way Over Yonder Bakehouse owner Jessica Burnley likes it. “I think vegan pastries just need to be more accessible in general,” Burnley says. “In a world of perfect-ness, you go into a coffee shop and there’s just as much variety for both vegan and non-vegan pastries.”
Burnley started her cottage-licensed business when she decided to plunge back into the food scene. She’d been working at a small grocer in the East Bay after more than a decade cooking and working as a pastry chef at fine dining restaurants including Slanted Door, RN74, and Out the Door. The pace and grind was getting her down, and her dad was diagnosed with cancer. She calls it a personal hiatus, but it led back to baking for pleasure. “As all cooks do at one point in their lives, I questioned if it was what I really wanted,” Burnley says.
At 19, she enrolled at a trade school in Modesto to get her culinary degree, then took up her decade-long run in Bay Area fine dining. It was on this hiatus years later when she realized there are not as many vegan baked goods in the East Bay — especially where she lives in Tracy, she notes. While working at the grocery store, she’d bring home all kinds of battered and bruised bananas and dates, ideal components of many vegan recipes. Her first breakthrough was making her own vegan butter, since all her baking was hitting her wallet when it came to stocking up on commercial plant-based butter, like Earth Balance. That led right to creating vegan croissants and laminating from home; her girlfriends took note of this impressive at-home production. “They weren’t vegan or anything, but they wanted to know if I was selling,” Burnley says. “At the time, I was happy to give them as gifts.”
It wasn’t long before Academic Coffee in San Jose gave Over Yonder its first big win. The coffee shop approached Burnley since she went there all the time to buy coffee. Via Instagram, the owners asked her to bring a few of her pastries by for sampling. Every Tuesday for the last few years she brings her goodies — peach fritter doughnuts and apple cider old fashioneds, to name a few — for re-sale at the cafe. Since then she’s had her pastries at vegan restaurant Millennium in Oakland, and numerous other pop-ups including York Street and put together a monthly pastry box for delivery. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without Academic taking me in,” Burnel says.
She hopes to get the wholesale side of things raring to go in the years to come. Rai Littlejohn’s Deathless Coffee is an all-plant-based outfit, and, if he and Burnley have it their way, the two will link up in short order. She’d like to provide Joshua James Kaplowitz’s Better Half Coffee with vegan goodies, too, as that pop-up hopes to get into a permanent space in the near future. But, for now, she’s happy to cruise along while dipping her toes into this post-fine dining, baking life. “Life’s too short and there’s no room to be scared,” Burnley says. “The worst that happens is I go back to cooking in a restaurant. And that’s okay.”