How to start a dog walking business

Dog walking is a labor of love. I started my dog walking business 8 years ago and It really all started out of love. My love for animals and my love of being an independent working girl. While at UCSD my college dorm room hermit crabs and beta fish were just not cutting it.  Sure, we had epic hermit crab races, but I missed my dogs back home and my childhood golden had just passed away. My best friends and I moved into a tiny beach shack  at Windansea beach and I desperately wanted to have my own dog. But I knew that in order to make that dream come true, I needed to be able to make decent money to pay for vet bills and that I would need to have a job that allowed me to bring my dog to work. That’s when I started walking my neighbor’s golden retriever and then I walked my other neighbor’s golden and then before I knew it I was walking five dogs on my street. That’s when I knew that I struck gold, no pun intended.

DogZenergy

With a full-time college work load, a restaurant job, a modeling contract with Jet Set, and an office admin job at a tutoring center, I started my first business called Wagz n’ Wigglz. I was a very busy girl. I made wonky looking fliers on Microsoft Word and ordered t-shirts off of Vista Print for $5 each. I charged $8 for a half hour walk and a whopping $15 for an hour walk. I was in business. I would proudly tell everyone I met that I have a business called Wagz n’ Wigglz and that I would love to walk their dog and all of their neighbors’ dogs too. I learned at an early stage that word-of-mouth and client referrals are everything. I put my heart and soul into taking care of my pack of dogs. I absolutely loved each and every one of them and I still do. I would talk to them all day long and I turned into a weird dog lady. I remember the day that I got my first ever five day a week client, a german shepherd named Isabella. She was a floppy goofy 6 month old puppy and the two of us became best friends. That was 8 years ago and to this day we are still taking sweet Bella to the park everyday. I would take her and a group of 5 other dogs to the dog park in my old 1997 Camry. We’re were quite the sight coming down the road with a car packed with fur and windows smeared with nose prints.

Before I knew it, the phone was flying off the hook and I was trying to fit 8 dogs in my Camry. So I started taking two groups of dogs to the dog park and then I would walk a few dogs after the dog park and then a few more in the evening. I was finally in a position where I could let go of my admin assistant job and I was getting into my junior year of school so I managed to take all of my classes just three days per week in the afternoons. I was on a mission to make enough money to get my golden puppy and to invest money into my expanding business.  In the mean time, I convinced my adorable college sweetheart (now fiancé!), Matt to get a golden puppy. That’s when we got Taj and life got even sweeter. But still, I had to get my very own dog so I continued to work as hard as I could so that I was completely self-sufficient (at 19 I really didn’t want to still be asking my dad for money) and so that my parents couldn’t say anything once I got my puppy. With a few modeling gigs I was able to save up a little nest egg for my puppy. I was also able to put money into rebranding my business as DogZenergy and build my first website. I brought home my little Daisy and all of my hard work became worth it. I was in LOVE.

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I was also in love with my growing business. In between studying and writing papers, I read every business book and dog training book that I could. My business was growing so fast that I realized that I needed to keep up. I needed to get a DBA, get a business license, keep track of my profit and loss, become accredited, get insurance, and create a “real” business. Not just a I’m-doing-this-on-the-side-to-make-extra-cash gig. I also needed to get a real dog mobile. That’s when I decided to say good-bye to my beloved Camryella. I put her on Craigslist for as a “Sexy Camry for sale, it’s what’s on the inside that counts” for $2300 and I woke up at 6:30am the next day to a Russian voice on the phone asking to come look at my beat up smelly car right at that very moment. I raced outside to clean up my car and was pulling fist fulls of fur out of all of the cracks in the seats when 4 Russian men in black leather jackets came up to me in the alley. They weren’t the least bit worried about the major dog smell or fur in every crevice or ding or dent on the side of the door. They gave me straight cash and that was it. I was afraid they were going to throw me in the trunk and drive off with me, but it was all good. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling this story when I’m supposed to be talking about how I started DogZenergy.

With all that cash I put a down payment on my first tricked out dog mobile. I took it straight to the car wrappers and told them I wanted big, bold and flashy. I wanted a modern day Dumb and Dumber mobile. And that’s what I got. Huge neon green paw prints on the front and sides with my signage all over it. And that’s when my business really blew up. I graduated college and by that time I was taking 12-15 dogs all by myself to the dog park and making $200/hour. I was taking care of 30 dogs per day and working 7 days per week. I ALWAYS said yes to every clients requests, I always had a smile on my face, I always made sure to treat my clients like family which a lot of them really did become like family, I always loved each and every dog with all of my heart and I always went above and beyond the call of duty. I got pooped and peed on, on a daily basis and I was always covered in slobber and hair. And I was happy but always tired. That’s when I decided that I couldn’t do it all. I didn’t want to get burned out and I wanted to make sure that even though I was getting more and more clients, I needed to be able to give everyone the same amount of attention and love. I read both Michael E. Gerber’s “The E-Myth” and Tim Ferris’ “The Four Hour Work Week” and those books became my bibles. I decided to turn my business into a system with operations in place in order to streamline things like scheduling, dog walking protocols, client communications, new client sign ups, and invoicing. All to make my life easier with the growing demands and continue to provide really good customer service.

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I hired my first employee, my amazing mom and that’s when life got so much better! She’s my best friend and my business partner. She’s the best manager that I could ever ask for because she goes above and beyond the call of duty. She’s a momma bear when she needs to be to protect our business and she’s a loving mom to all of our employees and clients. She’s the absolute best. My mom started walking dogs with me and then we started to hire employees. Hiring employees was a whole new ball game. What I’ve learned working with animals is that animals are simple and people are VERY hard to train. It’s hard to find good people and to find people who are as devoted and dedicated to your clients as you are. Thank goodness for sweet Brandi who joined our team a few years ago who is the biggest dog lover out there (she rivals me) . She’s a people lover too and is the sweetest person you’ve ever met with the biggest heart. We’ve had so many other wonderful employees who have taken such good care of our DogZenergy dogs, that have been college students or friends looking for a fun part-time job.

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With more employees, I stepped up our marketing and advertising efforts. I’ve tried some crazy things like advertising on bus benches, doing farmer’s market dog sitting, participating in pet parades, attending pet surf contests and even got a short gig on the Natural Companions holistic pet show as a host and trainer. But the biggest thing that has driven my business forward is always striving to give our customers the absolute best care for their pets and always being available when they need us. We operate our business out of love, respect, loyalty and kindness. We treat our DogZenergy dogs as if they were our own and we always put our clients’ needs first, whatever they may be. Because of our mantra, our clients are happy to recommend us to their friends and customers. I’d say that 60% of our business has come from referrals from customers and other dog service providers like vets and groomers in our community. 30% comes from our decked out dog mobile and the remaining 10% is from online marketing or are postcards being in shops around town. Not from dancing around in a dog costume, not from bus benches, not from being featured on the local news, but from word-of-mouth which comes from a labor of quite literally, love.

Today, DogZenergy has over 100 regular customers and 10 employees. With all of our systems and operations in place and with the amazing management of my mom, Karen, it’s running like a well-oiled machine and we’re growing year after year. Business is always a challenge and always a never ending journey, so that’s why I’m now fully dedicated to launching my new startup HANDLR. Handlr is going to take my current business and double our revenue within six months. I guarantee it. That’s why I’m going to start posting my P&Ls as a case study. I want to prove to the whole wide world that our mobile business management platform is going to change the way that we all do business on a daily basis. It’s going to make running a service business so much easier and will allow other business owners to reach the four-hour work week like I have. Running a small business is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Handlr automates scheduling, keeps track of customer satisfaction, dispatches employees, GPS tracks employees, enhances customer communication, automatically bills customers, keeps track of revenue earned and BRINGS YOU MORE NEW BUSINESS THAN YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH. Handlr is going to be a lifesaver for small service business owners who want to go big, but are not sure how to make it happen. Let’s handle it together.

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Daisy and I when we were just puppies. I guess you could say she’s my good luck charm. ; )


 

If anyone would like to contact me for more information about starting a dog walking business or any other service business, please feel free to reach out. I’ve had so many mentors give me the advice that I needed to keep pushing on and become a better businesswoman. I’m still learning so much, but I’d love to help if I can. It’s all about giving back and learning from each other. You can reach me at Brittany@myhandlr.com. 

Where to start?

Life is a funny thing. Just a few years ago I was walking 20-30 dogs per day in beautiful La Jolla, and now I’m running a startup in Los Angeles. I’ll tell you one thing right now- walking dogs is way more fun than sitting behind a computer all day. But I’m on a mission. A mission to change the way that small business owners operate and the way that customers find good, reliable service providers. I’m creating a thing called HANDLR and it’s f#$%ing awesome!

So I’ve decided to start sharing my story here to hopefully help and inspire other people to start their own small business or startup. It’s very simple and very hard to do. It’s simple to have an idea and to dream about how you’d like to make it happen, but making it happen is a whole other story. It takes a lot of guts, a lot of stamina, a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of tears, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot ups and downs. But it’s all so worth it to watch your ideas and dreams come to life.

Businesses start as nothing and live only as an idea in a crazy person’s head. It takes the truly crazy person to commit and make it happen. Being an entrepreneur means that you’re crazy enough to think that your little ol’ idea can actually become a reality. Being an entrepreneur means that you’ll do anything and everything to make things happen (side note: I’ve danced around on a busy intersection in La Jolla dressed in a giant dog mascot costume). It also means that you may have moments of extreme elation or periods of being completely bummed out. One minute you think that your company could one day be worth over a billion dollars and another day you’re thinking that not a single person is going to buy this crazy idea from you.

I’m writing about this new career path I’m on because 1) if I don’t write about it I might go mental, 2) I hope to connect with other entrepreneurs/techies/startup founders/small business owners out there and create a community of fellow crazy people, 3) I want to share this startup experience with my friends and family so that they will understand why I’ve fallen off the deep end and 4) I hope to inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs to take the leap into crazy town.

Follow along if you’re interested or just pop in here and there to see where Handlr’s at in our development. I’ll be posting tips on starting your own startup and running a small business. I might also throw some random things on here like how to make roasted pumpkin soup, how to take really good pictures of cats on Instagram, and how to procrastinate by blogging. I’ll also be covering all the latest geek news going on in Silicon Beach and I’ll be doing lots of shameless plugs for Handlr.

Alrighty then!

So here’s tip #1 for people who want to start their own business…

Just start.

Handlr

Around here

Sitting on a fence right now listening to my horses sneeze, swish their tails and stomp around. The baby birds have been flying out of their nests and tasks have been flying off my to-do list. Spring has sprung away and summer has landed. This spring I was busy putting all of my ducks in a row and this summer is going to be action packed. I’ve been working on a top secret project for the last year and now it’s time to unleash it. Funny how I’m literally sitting on a real fence right now while I feel like I’m sitting on a different kind of fence perched above two sides- preparation and execution. Funny how scary it is to be getting so close to making the big dream in my head a real thing in real life. Is it going to work? Are people going to like it? Am I missing something? Am I delusional? Can I actually really do this and pull it off? Moo just tried to push me off the fence. Which is exactly what I need. I need to push myself forward and execute quickly. These feelings of being uncomfortable or scared are simply just the push I need to channel this pent up energy (aka anxiety) into action. It’s so easy to talk about things and dream about things, but actually making them happen can be a whole different scary story. Now Moo just tried to bite my boot. He’s probably reading my thoughts and thinking, “Get off your ass, stop being scared, stop blogging and go back to work.” Ok Moo, reading you loud and clear.

But first, before I go, I just want to recap in photos how glorious this spring was…

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Down Dogs and Cats

Training dogs and running a small business have taught me the importance of identifying small habits in order to make big changes. I’ve been reading a great book called, The Power of Habit, and in it the author highlights identifying cues and reinforcers that perpetuate habit loops. By identifying the things that cue us during the day and then by rewiring our response to these cues, we can make big changes. Making big changes is also easier when you make big life changes, like moving to a new house and city, which I’ve recently done. We’ve lived here for 7 months now, but I feel like I’m still in the process of figuring out how I want to live on a day to day basis. How I want to wake up in the morning, how to wake up being mindful of my thoughts so that they’re happy, upbeat, excited for the day. I know this sounds totally gross, but I also needed to identify when I need to brush my teeth. Do I brush them after I feed all of the animals, after breakfast and coffee or before yoga? Otherwise, being an at-home working girl, you end up getting into a workflow and then 3:00 rolls around and you still have nasty morning breath on a beautiful afternoon. All of these little “habits” need to be thought about, at least for me they do. I find that if I’m successful in starting my morning off right it sets the tone for my productivity during the rest of the day. I’ve always thought of myself as a night owl and not an early birdie, but with my new startup venture kicking into high gear, I have to seize the morning by its balls and own it! Or in other words, just make the best of it. My goal is to wake up at 6:00 (eventually, small baby steps right? So truthfully more like 7:30), feed the horses, sling some poop, feed the rest of the critters, sling some more poo out of the litterbox, eat a healthy vegan breakfast (after I wash my hands of course), drink too much coffee, do at least 30 mins of yoga via yogaglo.com with my four fellow furry yogis, brush my teeth, take a shower, look presentable for my furry office coworkers and then hit the ground running (sit at my desk) by 9. The next part entails taking over the world with my new venture, but more details on that to come! ; )

Has anyone else tried doing yoga at home with animals? It’s a total crack up! I find myself staring at cat butt holes and doing deep breathing exercises with Daisy panting into my face. Also, being this close to my hairy floor is way too personal. I’m afraid that I’m going to take a deep breath and choke to death on dog hair. I’d rather keep those furballs under the tv console out of sight and out of mind. But then again, yoga shouldn’t be serious and breathy all the time, and having four animals lick you, step on you, make you giggle and steal your mat space definitely beats random sweaty strangers accidentally touching you in the middle of savasana.

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20140306-120813.jpgNamaste!

 

 

Little Tiger Lily Brown

The Brown Family Farm has a new edition! Meet little Tiger Lily Brown.

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Tiger Lily is pretty much the best birthday present that anyone can ask for! It was Matt’s birthday a few weeks ago and his best friend said that he wanted to get him a wild animal. So here we are with Tiger! She’s a Mokave Jag Cat, which is a rare new breed that’s a hybrid mix of bobcat, snow leopard, Asian leopard and domestic cat. Some Mokave Jag cats weigh as much as 32 lbs and they look like mini bobcats. Some look more like beautiful spotted snow leopards and are a little smaller in size. Tiger is 4.6 lbs now, which is the size of my Mom’s little Yorkie. She’ll probably be two times the size of Bear.

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Why another cat you ask? After all Bear has put us through, we’re either bat shit crazy or we are now feline experts. Plus, I don’t think it can get much worse than Bear and his shenanigans so I’m praying that by getting a little girl and by training her properly, she’ll end up being a lot more… polite when it comes to her potty choices. Call me even crazier, but I’m determined to teach her how to potty in the toilet.

We picked Tiger up on Monday at the airport and lo and behold the poor thing had pooped and peed all over herself in the crate. We were scared. Holy crap, another Bear. To make matters worse, there were sounds coming out of that crate that a cute little kitten would never make. She sounded like a mini cougar growling and hissing. Once we got her out of the crate we realized that she was just really pissed to have been in a box on a plane for 9 hours. She’s the absolute sweetest most beautiful creature. She immediately started purring when we petted her and over the last few days we’ve fallen in love with her. She’s scary smart too! She already knows her name and she’s already playing fetch with me and knows how to get her mouse. Tiger has completely won us over with her sweetness, smarts and cuddliness. She loves to snuggle up with us under the covers and loves to take naps on our laps. When she’s awake she’s a nonstop tornado and then she crashes hard. I’m officially a weird dog girl, obsessed horse girl and a crazy cat lady now!

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The craziest part about all of this, is that Bear actually likes her. We were so worried because Bear was an alley cat punk when we lived at the beach. He would come home with battle wounds and tufts of black hair where he’s dew claw had been. Poor black cat. One time Bear had a whole in his neck that I could’ve stuck a finger through from another fight. Our neighbors constantly heard cat screams in the night. Maybe Bear senses that a baby tiger has moved in and that she’s going to grow up to be twice his size or maybe he’s smitten with the kitten. I will never know what Bear thinks and that’s ok, as long as he’s not peeing on me.

I’m just so relieved that everyone is getting along and that there’s going to be even bigger cuddle puddles of fur all over our house. If only the horses could come inside and cuddle too. Life is so much better when it’s filled with animals and love.

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Hello. My name is Brittany. And I’m a meegan.

As I type this, I’m sitting here stuffing my face with some egg-less, wheat-less, dairy-less quinoa pumpkin bread that’s actually pretty f-ing good. It doesn’t taste like cardboard! Instead of eggs it’s made with chia seeds, which are sneaky little seeds that are a perfect sub for the binding agent found in eggs. Not to mention they supposedly give you a boost in brain power, so I should probably eat them in mass quantities because I need all the help I can get. The windy cool weather outside and the smell of pumpkin bread makes me want to curl up on my sofa with my cuddle monsters and eat the whole damn thing. 

So why meegan you ask? Meegan is my fancy new word for being a meat eating vegan. Basically, I just found out that I’m highly intolerant to dairy and eggs. Upon further research I realized this basically means I can eat vegan recipes because they don’t contain eggs or dairy. Ugh. I highly considered cutting cute little farm animals out of my diet too, but holy cow, one step at a time. 

Moving to Topanga, Matt and I joked about how we’re going to become granola eating, hairy, happy hippies and it’s all coming true (especially the hairy part). We’re stuck up on the hill without very many good restaurants around us, so I’ve been cooking a ton, which has been great because I’ve always loved eating lean and green. However, I never suspected that eggs were a real problem for me, especially because I literally ate them every-single-morning-without-fail. I had sneaking suspicions about being intolerant to dairy because out of all of my friends I’ve always had more unmentionable stomach issues. The biggest problem that I’ve been dealing with for years has been my battle with zits. It just seemed so unfair to be a 27 year old with teenage pimple issues still. Pimple is such an awkward word. Much like moist. The pumpkin bread that I just made was very moist. 

I found out about all of this through my awesome neighbor, Pepita. My mom has struggled with intestinal issues her whole life and both of us are completely convinced that food is the reason why so many people suffer from so many illnesses and health struggles. Pepita is a nutritional health coach who has had great success in changing people’s lives by identifying foods that a person may be intolerant to and then developing a health plan and recipes to support the new diet restrictions. Pepita came over to our house to test both Matt, my mom and I with a simple pin prick blood test and then sent the samples into a lab. We’re all blood brothers now. Two weeks later we got the results, and let me tell you, I ate everything “bad” as possible within those two weeks because I had a sneaking suspicion that I shouldn’t be eating dairy or wheat. Low and behold, both my mom and I can eat wheat, but we are both highly intolerant to dairy and eggs. We’re also moderately intolerant to baker’s yeast, which gosh darn it, is in pretty much everything. There were a few other things that we should avoid. For some reason I can’t do almonds. Which means no almond milk. Boo. By the way, Matt is intolerant to nothing except for kidney beans. Lucky duck.

Instead of immediately thinking that my life is over and poor me because I can’t eat any of the things I love anymore (lattes, lasagna, ice cream, muffins, egg scrambles, parmesan cheese, french toast, etc. etc.), I decided to take it on as a creative challenge! Pepita has been so wonderful and supportive. She’s a wealth of knowledge and it turns out that there are plenty of healthy substitutions. Chia seeds in water becomes a gelatinous substance that can be used in baked goods like eggs. Flax seed is another option. There’s all kinds of yummy milk alternatives like hemp, rice, coconut and my personal fave hazelnut milk. Instead of butter you can use coconut oil or olive oil. I haven’t tried this yet, but you can make “egg” scrambles with mashed up tofu, nutritional yeast, himalayan pink salt, quinoa and veggies. I’ve made some awesome vegan banana pancakes, lots of yummy vegan dishes with a little meat on top and of course the quinoa pumpkin bread that I’m eating right now. I’ve always been morally conflicted by loving animals so much, but still eating some of them. I hardly ever eat meat, but when I do I try to make sure that it’s organic and free range. I cross my fingers that the poor things at least had somewhat of a good life before we ate them. I seriously just need to become a real vegan. 

The one thing I’m super bummed about with my new creative diet is that we’re not going to get chickens anymore. I’ve been dying to get some chicks and build a fun coop, but oh well. Instead we’ll just have to get some alpacas and shear them for their fleece. Or maybe a pig! I’ve always wanted a pig. We’ll just have to figure out how to build coyote proof enclosures first. The one thing that I’m grateful for is that my mom and I were proactive about our health and we finally figured out what we can and can’t eat. We have each other for emotional support (which is going to be greatly needed during the holidays – i.e walk-away-from-the-pumpkin-pie, those mashed potatoes don’t mean anything to us, don’t even think about eating that cornbread casserole etc.) and we’re going to be healthier and happier despite the challenges. 

So the absolute best news about all of this is that I am finally acne free!!!! Hallelujah! I zapped those zits away with my dairy and egg free powers. Let me repeat- I am zitless! I’m no longer bloated either! Bloated with zits is not a good look. Not going to lie, the last few weeks I have been feeling some detox side effects that have made me feel a little blue, but I also think it’s  because I’m eating a lot less calories. Oh and did I mention that it’s doing wonders for my waistline? Forget about gimmicky weight loss fad diets, just figure out what you can and can’t eat or just cut out dairy, eggs and sugar and eat tons of veggies. 

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My personal recipe for happiness starts with one big heaping handful of healthiness. It may be challenging to eat clean and avoid temptations, but it feels so good to feel good. I love my life and I’d hate for it to be cut short because of poor eating decisions. That probably sounds pretty melodramatic, but it’s so true! Our physical health is so connected to our mental well being too. It’s hard to be happy when you’re not feeling good. I’m determined to feel good- physically, mentally and spiritually. Also, Pepita mentioned that in a cancer research study, a doctor found that 95% of his cancer patients were allergic to eggs. That’s a strong enough correlation if you ask me. Enough to keep me eating chia seeds for days. 

A Meegan’s Recipe for Happiness

5 cups of laugher

3 cups of chia seeds

18 tablespoons of puppy cuddling

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1 teaspoon of cat cuddling

5 1/8 cups of creativity

10 cups of love

1 cup of coconut oil

3 cups of hazelnut milk

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6 cups of horseback riding

3 tablespoons of muzzle nuzzles with Gracie and Moo

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1 tablespoon of a cozy blanket

6 cups of playing in nature

2 cups of a sunset

5 cups of wine (thank god I’m not intolerant to grapes or coffee!!)

12 tablespoons of gratitude for veggies

1 pinch of Matt’s cheeks

 

Here’s a real recipe for ya!

Vegan Quinoa Pumpkin Bread (Tastes a whole lot better than it sounds! Promise!!)

Recipe adapted from hungryhungryhippie.com

1 tbsp chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp of water (prepare first and set aside until it’s gelatinous)

2 mashed bananas

1/3 cup of coconut oil

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups quinoa flour (I used the Red Mill brand)

1/2 cup sugar or stevia baking blend

1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all of the wet ingredients together with a hand mixer. In a separate bowl combine and mix all of the dry ingredients. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix till smooth. Pour batter into a bread loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Poke it with a toothpick and if it comes out clean it’s ready. Enjoy! And try not to eat the whole loaf in one day like I did. 

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If you have a yummy vegan cheat recipe to share please email me! Would love any and all advice!