Hello! I’m Kira Lancaster, the vegan cheesemaker at the helm of Wandering Deli, the company I run with my husband Cailean Lewis. This venture has taken many forms as I tackle the journey that is entrepreneurship, and I am truly delighted that it has taken shape as a dairy-free cheese and charcuterie company. I certainly wandered on my path to get here, but what has remained unwavering in my life is a deep passion for plant-based food, and a vivid streak of creative imagination.
My journey with food and creativity started early, with parents who love to go all out cooking gourmet meals for weekends and special occasions. I grew up with farmers markets being and important part of our routine, and the sentiment that trying new dishes from places and people I hadn’t yet experienced was always worth it. In my family if we tried something that was new and delicious, the next step was always to try to make it at home. In small town Ontario in the early 90s, this was foods like falafel, samosas, and maki, which seems so commonplace now but at the time really had my lunch boxes dubbed ‘weird art kid’! My mother is an artist, and not only was my belly never empty, but she nurtured a creativity in me that has always steered the ship.
So, with this passion established, and having become vegetarian in my teens then vegan in my twenties, I followed many a winding path in offering food to the public. Living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I ran a vegan sandwich delivery company, called Wandering Deli for a summer while staying with my partner. It was very well received, but I returned to school and my organic restaurant job in Toronto in the fall.
While working at the restaurant, I started experimenting with nut-based cheeses. I was already fixated on vegan cooking, but cheese gave me a challenge that had me downright obsessed. I remember eavesdropping on conversations customers were having about vegan cheeses they’d tried, and going home to try to replicate what they were talking about. When the first vegan cheesemaking cookbooks were published, I was making so much cheese that I gifted it at every occasion possible. Thankfully my family and friends are very open to delicious vegan cheese, and the feedback I kept getting was ‘you should start a company’. I found this exciting, and very daunting- so I started slow.
‘Secret vegan cheese club’ is the first venture I started where the public could find me and buy vegan nut and seed based cheeses. It started as a Facebook group and news spread quite fast, my first open-door event was swamped! The club still exists, and I now host tastings of charcuterie and cheese through airbnb experiences. The club birthed the company, and I had an incredibly lucky opportunity to rent professional kitchen space- Crescent Dairy Free was born.
There have been countless bumps in the road, and some genuine steps backward, but the sharing of dairy-free cheese and charcuterie coupled with the positive response from a dedicated customer base continue to make this venture an honour to pilot. When it came to light that Crescent Dairy Free wasn’t going to work as a name, I knew that Wandering Deli, my old company name, was the name that suited what I do best. Wandering is taking your time to appreciate the loved ones and foods that have nourished your body and spirit, to take the windy path to get where you’re going. And Deli is about small businesses that make food so good that you will sit down and be sure to remember it. Deli’s are neighbourhood food. So wander this plant-way and celebrate what a deli can be!