Rey Ortega
Owner, Sun Flour Baking Company and the Author of Tucker the Tomato
Interviewed by Doh Driver
 
Rey, are you vegan yourself?
Yes, ten years now!
 
Why did you make the decision to go vegan?
I became vegan because I was always sick (also known as food allergies) as a child and did not grow out of it. It in fact got worse as I got older. I was 100 pounds overweight, and doctors were no help. I stopped eating eggs at 16 years old; little did I know I would be vegan within 7 years.
 
Your company, Sun Flour Baking Company, makes a full line of vegan cookies and treats. What are some of your favorite flavors?
My new favorite is my wheat-free Brownie and I admit, I do eat my wheat-free Chocolate Chip every morning, and have lost and then maintained my weight since switching to a high protein/fiber vegan cookie. I cannot seem to get sick of them--they are sooo good!
 
Which are your bestsellers?
Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Lemon in the traditional cookie. And in the wheat-free/gluten-free category, the Golden Brownie, Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter are best sellers. 
 
So some of your cookies and brownies are available wheat- and gluten-free. What flavors do you have in the gluten-free line?
In addition to the bestsellers mentioned above, we also make Lemon, Cinnamon Twist, German Chocolate, and Mocha Java. I am also working on a Macadamia Chocolate Chip and a "Mock Oatmeal Raisin" without oats.
 
What do you use instead of wheat or other gluten flours? How do they compare to wheat-based treats?
I use pinto bean flour combined with rice flour. My wheat-free flours contain no gluten and are high in fiber and protein. They are excellent in taste and texture. They are legumes, rather then a grain. I special order my flours and they are four times more expensive then any other flours, including wheat flour.
 
How long has Sun Flour been in business, and what prompted you to start the company?
Five years ago I started Sun Flour Baking, and I was the original owner and founder of Alternative Baking Company, which is also in Sacramento, CA. Most all those recipes are also ones I created. I don't have any affiliation with them anymore because of major differences at the time. I initially started that company because of my problems with food allergies and sickness.
 
Have you had many surprises along the way of developing your business?
The biggest surprise was having to compete with myself. I didn't think I had it in me to create two vegan cookie companies and compete with my old recipes. But here I am, thriving with a successful vegan business once again!
 
What is the most rewarding part of your job at Sun Flour?
Seeing peoples faces when they first taste one of my vegan cookies and they don't realize that it's vegan. And also knowing that I have put millions of vegan cookies in people's tummies.
 
Are your employees vegan?
My assistant, Lauren Farnsworth, has been vegan for four years now, and my bakers are vegetarian.
 
You also have written a children's book! Tell us how you came to write Tucker the Tomato. What was the inspiration?
I travel a lot, and I see tomatoes all along the road to L.A. And once saw a squirrel eating one, so I put it together with the natural foods business and came up with Tucker.
 
The layout is very clean and kid-friendly. Who is the artist, and what is her/his background?
Amanda Moeckel is a really big part of Tucker--it was a great collaboration between her and me. Amanda came up with Tucker's look after only a few attempts and rewrote my story and added a few characters. I wanted to make Tucker Organic Catsup as the ending at the natural foods store, but Amanda thought differently and had Tucker find his friends instead. Amanda is one of the most passionate animal activists I have ever met. I personally picked her after interviewing other artists--once I realized how passionate she was, I knew I had found the right artist.
 
Tucker is an organic tomato, and helps children understand the difference between organic and conventional foods. The conventional tomatoes look pretty tough. You obviously support the organic food movement, yet most of Sun Flour's cookies have only one organic ingredient (cane sugar). Are you hoping to transition your products to fully organic?
Yes, I am transitioning very slowly to organic. It is really tough because the cost of organic ingredients are about 25% higher, thus making the cookies retail so high it would turn people off. I am always actively looking for organic suppliers.
Your publishing company has more books coming out. What can we expect to see in the near future? Are you the author of all of them, or are you publishing books written by other authors?
The next book to be published was written and illustrated by Sarah Rudy.
 
Sarah is another great and passionate person with amazing talents that will be a benefit to the animal rights movement. Her book is titled, "Benji Bean Sprout Doesn't Eat Meat!" It's about a little boy that goes to school and gets picked on for being vegetarian. He questions his parents' idea of being vegetarian until his father takes him to the Farm Sanctuary and helps Benji end his doubts.
 
I also have The Dancing Star, Benny Brontosaurus Goes to a Party, Barney Bumble Bee Likes to Smell Flowers, and The Littlest Girl with the Longest Braids in the Whole Wide World. I have written some of them, but have assigned my assistant Lauren Farnsworth to co-write a few. And more are coming soon, including an animal art greeting card line with the work of different artists, including Amanda and Sarah. You can see the greeting cards at www.animalartgreetingcards.
Where can your baked goods be found?
Mostly at natural foods stores, and on my Web site, www.sunflourbaking.com. If you cannot find a local store that carries them, I suggest you call or e-mail us so we can get our products in a store near you! I also do some airlines, like Continental Air, as part of their vegetarian meals.
How can readers get your book(s)?
I sell Tucker on www.tuckertomato.com, as well as through Amazon.com and the Barnes and Noble Web site. I am slowly getting my books in natural food stores. I also am making a coloring book for the natural foods industry, which will have things like veggie burgers and organic fruits and vegetables to color, along with puzzles that will be hours of fun. It also will be available on my site. I also will be selling my books on eBay; look under vegan in the search option.
My goal is to make children's books with animal and vegetarian-friendly themes and get them into stores (both natural foods and mainstream). I found there is a lack of kid-friendly books with those themes in stores.
Doh Driver is the full-time single parent of Griffin, her 3-year-old healthy, breastfeeding, joyous little vegan. She is also a part-time yoga instructor in Florida, and became completely vegan as of New Year's Day, after 12 years of saying, as a vegetarian, she could never be vegan. By making peaceful and compassionate choices in her life, she hopes to provide her son with a model of mindful, gentle living.