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Comfort made cruelty-free

Think of all the comfort food you grew up loving – bacon, pizza, cinnamon rolls and cupcakes. Now, make them vegan.

That is what Riley Greenwood, co-owner of Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats, strives to do with her business. Within the last couple years, what originally began as a typical bakery in Peoria has transformed into a business based on cruelty-free comfort food.

“My journey with vegan cooking began when I had a customer ask me if I had ever made eggless and dairy-free items before,” Greenwood said. “Within a few days, she brought me in a cupcake book with over 100 cupcake recipes and said, ‘This should help make it a little easier for you.’ So I tried my best for months to recreate all of my top-selling items in a vegan-friendly option.”

By the end of 2018, Greenwood had transitioned all her treats to vegan. The bakery cases of Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats are now loaded with ever-changing assortments of vegan cupcakes, cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and more.

But Greenwood wanted to offer more than just sweets. A little over a year ago, she decided to host a full vegan meal to bring her regular customers together. To her delight, over 50 responded, which grew even more interest for the next dinner.

Her relocation to a new storefront since then has provided Greenwood the opportunity to offer “vegan lunch boxes” that include a meal and dessert for pick-up most Friday and Saturday afternoons. Available meals are posted in advance on social media for pre-order.

The number of menu items have been steadily increasing week after week. The varieties of unique vegan pizza flavors alone have ranged from breakfast skillet to taco to barbecue “chicken.”

“It takes only a few days to cultivate new recipes; I am in constant creation mode,” Greenwood said.

To further inspire her creations, Greenwood has been traveling to different states to taste-test vegan foods and bring her favorite ideas back with her to share with her customers.

Many of these customers include members of the Bradley community at Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats, including librarian Kari Garman, who calls Greenwood her “go-to sweets person” and orders treats from her for every monthly staff meeting and any staff celebrations.

“People ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about how great Riley’s food is,” Garman said. “And when I’ve brought treats home to my family, they loved them without knowing they were eating vegan.”

Greenwood said that her favorite part about being in business is the connections she has formed with people and the local community. Beyond customers who stop in at the store, she sells her baked goods at large local events like Taste of Bradley and Taste of Peoria, as well as at other smaller events when she has the opportunity. There are even plans set for a Vegan Expo in Peoria this summer.

“There is so much compassion and gratitude shared mutually between my customers and I. They begin to feel more like family seeing some of them every week,” Greenwood said. “Peoria is home for me, so I am happy to serve my community the best way I know how.”

Looking to the future, Greenwood said she hopes for a restaurant space, take-home dry mixes, a full menu on Grubhub and generally continuing to foster the vegan community in Peoria through more events and resources.

Riley’s Vegan Sweets and Eats currently collaborates with Sweet Cakes by Rachael in a storefront located at 1233 W. Brons Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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