Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats started from a daughter’s wish to go on a mission trip. Credit: Celeste Sassine

In 2018, Celeste Sassine’s then 15-year-old daughter Cheyenne ran over to her after youth service at their church in Brooklyn and said she wanted to go to Texas to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Harvey. The church was organizing a trip.

The problem: it was not a free trip. 

In the church elevator, Sassine said aloud, “Lord, you know I don’t have $1700, you know I don’t have this $250 for the deposit. If you want Cheyenne to go on this trip, you need to make a way.”

Later, in the church cafeteria, Sassine stopped chatting with friends to offer them cookies. When she turned away for a second and then back around, everyone’s hand was out. “Where’s the rest?” they asked.

Sassine locked eyes with her daughter and said: “We’ve got to sell some cookies to get you on this trip.”

That was the beginning of a yearslong path that led southeast Queens resident Sassine to open a business named Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats.  

A legacy baked into her family history

Sassine had become vegan earlier that year. She’d always had a sweet tooth. When she sought vegan treats, she thought: “Why do I need a dictionary to read the ingredients?” She soon started buying natural ingredients and experimenting.

The Sassine family sells Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats at their local farmer’s market. Credit: Celeste Sassine

Sassine’s penchant for baking dates back to her childhood. Her mother was known in the neighborhood for her pound cake, and Sassine’s job was to beat the mixture 500 strokes or more. “During the process, no one’s thinking, ‘you know, while you’re mixing this cake, you’re gonna learn patience, you’re gonna learn that you don’t finish a task undone,’ ” Sassine said. 

But she did. Her close friend and longtime customer Juanita Bryan-Robinson can attest: “She’s a disciplined person, and I think that’s what makes the business,” she said. 

Bryan-Robinson saw this consistency reflected in Sassine during their York College days and as a fellow lifeguard at the Jamaica YMCA. She saw it in her friend’s commitment to teaching American Sign Language (ASL) and serving her church with ASL interpretation.

A mission to sell cookies 

Sassine met the fundraising mission for her daughter’s trip in 2018 with the same kind of commitment. Yet she wasn’t alone: the family rolled up their sleeves to bake dozens of vegan cookies every night for two weeks. Sassine’s husband was the roller, Sassine the baker, Cheyenne the packer. 

“Mom would have difficulty getting cookies into bags or cookie jars,” Cheyenne said, chuckling. “I could finagle the cookies into them better than she could.” 

She would joke about starting her own union: “the teenage daughters of bakers.” 

Cheyenne sold the cookies at school, two for a dollar, in Ziploc bags. They always sold out. Cheyenne would approach the popular kids first; others would follow. Word soon got around to the gym teacher, who introduced Cheyenne’s mother to a friend who owned a vegan store. His friend had tried a cookie and said, “Yo, yo, yo! I want these cookies in my store.” 

Celeste Sassine’s sweet tooth, love of fresh ingredients and gift for baking is a generational legacy. Credit: Celeste Sassine

Building a vegan baking business

It turned out there was a lot more to selling cookies than Ziploc bags and a killer strategy. 

To sell them retail, Sassine needed to operate out of a commercial kitchen, which required a 20-C Food Processing Establishment license. That license came with a long checklist. 

Her husband bought her a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) for Mother’s Day that year. Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats LLC was born. Sassine found a commercial kitchen she liked in Queens (now in Long Island). And in 2020, she took a monthslong business course with the Queens Economic Development Corporation. There, Sassine learned about pricing for profit — something she and her family hadn’t thought about when they sold vegan cookies for 50 cents apiece. 

It was also tough to figure out who her ideal customer was, down to their diet, profession, and disposable income. 

“My niche is vegan — vegan is not Entenmann’s; it’s expensive but worth it,” Sassine said. 

Sassine’s baked goods are sold online and in local Black-owned businesses: Earnest Foods supermarket and Cookerz Blend. They can also be found in a campus cafeteria at SUNY Cortland, where her son is completing a master’s degree.  

“You want, of course, your ideal customer, but then you [also] want those others,” she said. “You want the 99-year-old lady who says, ‘oh, I’m gonna be 100 and I want a birthday cake.’ You want the 10-year-old who says, ‘oh Mommy, can I have the cupcake?’” 

Her main clients fall somewhere in between. 

“She’s my dealer,” jokes Stephanie Bullock, a longtime friend and customer from Jamaica, Queens. The supply: mostly zucchini bread and red velvet cookies.  

For Bryan-Robinson, zucchini bread also became an unlikely favorite: “I was like, ‘I don’t even eat zucchini, I don’t want it,’ being a big baby. I ate it — it was the best thing ever.”

Other popular Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats items include cinnamon sugar donut holes and blueberry cake donuts, carrot cake, apple crumb cake, and classic chocolate chip cookies. 

Cheyenne Sassine holds down the fort for Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats at a community event. Credit: Celeste Sassine

Back to the church 

Sassine’s family has fond memories of raising funds for Cheyenne’s mission trip — and what came after. They raised enough money to also partly sponsor another youth.

“I think the business for her is like an answer to prayer … an opportunity to show her children that everything doesn’t always start off big,” said Bryan-Robinson, who is godmother to Sassine’s children. “She was going to raise money for a trip and it went from that to where she is now.”

Of that trip, Cheyenne recalls teaching kids in Texas how to swim. (Her mother, the former lifeguard, had taught her to swim.) In the afternoons, the church youth helped to rebuild homes by painting and putting up sheetrock.

“At the time I was like, ‘wow, God put it in mom’s heart to sell the cookies so I can get on the trip,” Cheyenne said. “But now I think it was the other way around: God put it in my heart to go on a mission trip so we can start this business.”

Cheyenne is now her mother’s executive assistant and a co-baker who puts the icing on Sassine’s cakes. And she’s still the official packer. 

“I love getting closer to my daughter — she’s the bomb diggity,” Sassine said. “And I’m passing this down to her.”

Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats

Order online here.

(917) 397-0521

Follow on Instagram here.

Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats will next be serving in person at a community vegan food event in Bay Shore on April 19 at 7 p.m. 

Read more of our small business stories here.

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