Amanda and Kyle Reninger had to come up with a plan. After being told their cholesterol levels were too high, Amanda quickly began to research ways she could lower them. Without the aid of health insurance, the challenges of dealing with this issue became a mission complete with lots of personal initiative. She found that the best way to lower her cholesterol was to cut out animal fat. Before long, both Amanda and Kyle went vegan.
“We didn’t want to be on cholesterol pills in our 20s,” she says.
Their lives became a series of experiments in the kitchen. Without the luxury of smartphones to help her, Amanda remembers writing down ingredients of different foods, going home, and searching to find out if they fit with her and Kyle’s new diet. Kyle, on the other hand, had his star moment perfecting a vegan breakfast burrito. Amanda says the root of this creation was a desire for a new breakfast food after one too many stops at Burger King for hash browns and french toast sticks, two menu items she says every vegan knows about.
Amanda and Kyle are longtime Muncie residents and recall a time when there was nobody doing anything vegan in town. This was what led them to start their business Sea Salt & Cinnamon nearly eight years ago in June of 2014. According to a 2017 study, just one percent of U.S. consumers were vegan the year the business opened, compared to around six percent in today’s time. This one percent equated to roughly three million people.
Dietician and nutritionist Debbie Whiteside works for River City Correctional Facility as a menu planner, as well as meeting monthly with anyone with dietary concerns. She says she sees these specialized diets becoming more popular as the food industry shifts in that direction.
“The food market is going to just jump on the bandwagon and start creating more dairy and gluten-free [products],” Whiteside says. “Wherever they can make money, they’re going to produce easier items so that being vegan is going to become easier if they see that as the trend to go to.”
Amanda and Kyle’s journey started with allergy-friendly cupcakes. While Amanda explored and grew the baked goods, Kyle worked on and expanded the savory side. Once a variety of different recipes were perfected, they began operating as a ghost kitchen, with little public presence. This format, Amanda says, made it hard in a few aspects for the business.
“We tried to create brand loyalty and brand awareness over the years, but we had never really been able to do that,” she explains.
They also were able to take their foods to local farmers markets and weddings. Over time, the business continued to grow in popularity and the two began working with a Midwest distributor, along with developing 15 partnerships across the state. Their products can be found through their partners in places like Fort Wayne, Greenwood, and Indianapolis. Kyle says their largest market remains in two key places.
“We’re in a lot of universities and hospitals,” he says.
Whiteside says hospitals and nursing homes are places where it is almost required to have at least a vegetarian option, and she sees this expanding in the future. The biggest reason? The health of the residents.
“If the person has been vegetarian their whole life then they go into a nursing home and they start having to eat meat, they’re going to be sick,” she explains. “They’re not going to be happy in their home.”
It was only in September of last year; however, that Amanda and Kyle made one of the biggest moves in the history of their business: opening the storefront in downtown Muncie. This was an idea the pair had been thinking about for a while. The building, located on Walnut Street, took longer than expected to obtain.
“We always really loved this space,” Amanda says.
It wasn’t until a friend of theirs, Kimberly Ferguson, purchased the building that the opportunity arose. Amanda remembers rent not fitting perfectly within their budget, but after sitting down with Kimberly, a lease was signed in May of 2021.
With more distribution deals on the way and a growing vegan market, Amanda and Kyle are looking forward to moving ahead with their end goal: taking over the world. According to a study by Allied Market Research, the global vegan market is expected to reach $7.5 billion dollars by 2025. Sea Salt & Cinnamon will be a definite part of this increase.
Kyle hopes to be alongside other major food companies in the future, offering an expanded menu of needed vegan counterparts.
“They may do one vegan thing and a couple vegetarian things,” he says. “We really want to be alongside them… Let them do that, and let us do this.”
The opening of the shop was an affirmation of Amanda and Kyle’s belief in slow growth. Even today, Amanda says she wants to wait a while before doing something like working with a national distributor. Kyle says that, despite the desire for a second shop in Indianapolis, Muncie is their focus. For now, they will continue offering foods like coffee cake, chocolate chip cookies and mushroom sausages, some of Amanda’s favorites, with one goal in mind.
“It’s not our goal to turn everyone vegan,” she says with a smile. “We just want to offer options and show people that it’s possible and just start a conversation.”
Images: Shannon McCloskey