Meet Tampa's Gabby Duncan, the one-woman-show behind vegan powerhouse Gabby Bakes

The next Gabby Bakes pop-up happens at St. Pete's Indie Flea this weekend.

click to enlarge Meet Tampa's Gabby Duncan, the one-woman-show behind vegan powerhouse Gabby Bakes
Ivana Cajina
The first time you lay eyes on a Gabby Bakes cake, you do a double take. Its sheer cuteness initially catches the eye, but on second glance you notice its intricately-piped buttercream, unique blend of pastel colors and painstaking attention to detail.

And if you’re lucky enough to take a bite, there’s a third revelation: its unique flavors weaved in between layers of brightly-colored buttercream.

Offering treats like carrot brown sugar cupcakes, banana-cardamom sponge cakes with salted caramel and vegan milk chocolate buttercream, and sweet-salty cornflake cookies, Tampa pop-up bakery Gabby Bakes specializes in masterfully-crafted treats with flavors that ebb and flow through the seasons.

The tastes are more dynamic than Florida’s actual weather—and always ethically-sourced and cruelty-free, too.

Thirty-one year-old Tampa resident Gabby Duncan is the one-woman-show and creative mastermind behind Gabby Bakes. The self-taught baker launched her small business right before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and it’s swiftly evolved into one of the most popular food pop-ups in all of Tampa Bay.

If you’ve attended an Indie Flea market recently, you’ve probably seen a line of 20 or so tattooed St. Petians patiently waiting for a taste of Gabby Bakes’ precious cake slices, artisan cookies and whatever else Duncan has dreamed up of that month.
With a loyal audience of vegans and non-vegans alike, a found niche in the baking world, and a steady calendar of events and custom cake orders, the last thing that Duncan is missing is a storefront of her own—a possibility that isn’t too far off.

“I’m trying to see if I'm currently able to afford that move up to my own space—it would be a dream but I'm also being mindful to scale up comfortably and smartly,” Duncan tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “I'm very excited at the prospect and am committed to finding the cutest storefront possible,” explaining that she would prefer to open a brick and mortar in Seminole Heights, the neighborhood where she planted the seeds for Gabby Bakes many years ago.

But until the cutest storefront in Tampa is secured, Gabby Bakes will remain a one-woman-show (with assistance from friends who help with long market days.)

Although Duncan’s face rarely makes an appearance on her business’ Instagram, she still maintains a transparent and personable approach to her wildly-popular bakery pop-up. She launched a Gabby Bakes website in late 2022, giving her patrons a taste of her personality and background, while “remaining conscious about not monetizing personal moments of life.”

With a creative style as bright as her clothes, Duncan’s painstakingly-piped flowers, hearts, smiley faces and cartoon characters have helped her build a truly recognizable brand.

Duncan pops up Indie Flea and Seminole Heights’ 3 Dot Dash once a month, in addition to regularly stocking treats at Tampa’s Black Radish Grocery, Pure Kitchen and Vegan International Co.
click to enlarge Sheet cakes for a recent 3 Dot Dash pop-up—roasted walnut sponge, espresso pastry cream and dulce de leche buttercream. - gabbybakesllc / Instagram
gabbybakesllc / Instagram
Sheet cakes for a recent 3 Dot Dash pop-up—roasted walnut sponge, espresso pastry cream and dulce de leche buttercream.
While popular plant-based eateries have made waves in Tampa Bay within the last few years, Duncan has been vegan since she was a toddler. Growing up in Kansas in the ‘90s, Duncan lived through what she describes as the “from-scratch era of veganism,” which naturally peaked her interest in cooking. She started preparing meals by the age of four or five. Her mother—a Jamaican immigrant—retired to Florida about a decade ago, and Duncan followed in pursuit of warmer weather.

But her interest in baking specifically didn’t form until a few years ago, when she started whipping up desserts for friends.

“Baking was something I played around with throughout my life but it wasn't until 2018 I started devoting more of my time to the endeavor,” Duncan explains. “I gambled with the idea of going to culinary school, but sadly realized there weren't any schools at the time that could teach me with ingredients I could eat, and so abandoned the idea.”

Duncan has absolutely no experience baking with eggs or dairy, since the plant-based lifestyle is all she’s ever known. She still cannot recall the smell or taste of any animal products.

And while some folks adopt veganism for health reasons, Duncan says her approach to the plant-based lifestyle is more ethical and downright political than anything. Veganism can now be considered “cool and trendy” and a more accessible lifestyle in 2023, but Duncan says that its increase in popularity isn’t a good thing 100% of the time.

“The weird/bad things would be big agricultural businesses capitalizing on this newer market without commitment to the ethical standards I believe are inherent in the vegan ethos,” Duncan explains. “Another thing would be the mis-marketing of veganism as a health fad when it (to me) is an anti-capitalist and abolitionist stance against the oppression of all living beings, and that's gotta include non-human animals.”

While Gabby Bakes’ Instagram feed is full of colorful and heartwarming cakes, Duncan’s stance on political topics like LGBTBQ+ rights (in addition to veganism) are made loud and clear. Last year, Duncan—a queer woman herself—hosted cake raffles to raise funds for grassroots organizations like the Black and trans-led collective For the Gworls and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective (stylized as “BTFA”). She’s also made it clear that she has no interest in baking blue or pink gender reveal cakes, encouraging her customers to commision bakes honoring hormone replacement therapy and gender affirming surgeries instead.

More key pieces to Duncan’s principled approach to baking is a dedication to using ethically-grown and traded spices, purchasing seasonal produce when possible, composting fruit scraps and investing in biodegradable piping bags and to-go boxes.

And the more Gabby Bakes grows, the larger of an audience her strongly-held beliefs will reach. What started out as a part-time cottage kitchen business has evolved into baking custom cake orders and pop-up products out of a Brandon-based commissary kitchen full-time.

In just under three years, Duncan’s cakes have transformed from simple designs to miniature pieces of art. Although she loves many artistic mediums, she says that almost all of her creative energy is conserved for cakes. “I think lil’ intricacies of mine are expressed through my decorating style; I’m currently loving vintage-themed cakes in the Lambeth style,” Duncan says about the 200 year-old style of cake decoration.

Duncan is spreading joy with her beautiful creations and unique flavors, but also setting an example of a personable, yet ethical approach to small business—with her belief system always at the forefront.

“I just don't see veganism as a healthy thing.There's documented findings to support the benefits of a well-rounded vegan diet which are great, but it feels secondary to the environmental and ethical importance of it,” Duncan tells CL.

For the latest updates on Gabby Bakes and its pop-up schedule , follow @gabbybakesllc on Instagram or head to The next Gabby Bakes pop-up happens this weekend at St. Pete’s Indie Flea on Sunday, April 2, in addition to Seminole Heights’ 3 Dot Dash on Saturday, April 15. Custom cake orders typically open a month in advance.
click to enlarge The March 30, 2023 cover of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. - Photo by Ivana Cajina / Design by Joe Frontel
Photo by Ivana Cajina / Design by Joe Frontel
The March 30, 2023 cover of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

About The Author

Kyla Fields

Kyla Fields is the Managing Editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who started their journey at CL as summer 2019 intern. They are the proud owner of a charming, sausage-shaped, four-year-old rescue mutt named Piña.
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