Local vegan restaurant among top-rated in the countryFeb 06, 2023 01:41PM ● By Jesse M. Gonzalez
Cecilia Armenta, in the blue dress, cuts the ribbon to open up her first restaurant while standing next to her mother and two children. (Jesse M. Gonzalez/City Journals)
A South Salt Lake vegan restaurant was voted third best in the nation according to Google data collected by Bonus Insider. Yumz Bakery & Café, 3490 State St., has been open since Oct. 15, 2021, and it continues to thrive, bringing together a top-notch crew of cooks and chefs all under the guidance of Cecilia Armenta, who goes by C.C.—the mastermind behind the business and menu.
Starting a successful vegan restaurant has not been without obstacles. At 21, Armenta underwent a diagnosis of uterine cancer, then three years later she was struck with more bad news. “I had uterine cancer and breast cancer. Then I was 24 when I got hit with the other one and that is when my daughter was born. It’s kind of where I started my journey,” Armenta said.
Battling through two cases of cancer wasn’t easy to overcome, and after an ineffective surplus of treatment plans and strategies, Armenta refused to give up hope, and eventually resorted to diet and nutrition to get her through to better health, discovering the vitality of veganism.
“Food is health,” Armenta said. “We’ve been taught that since we were little—you are what you eat. I can attest to that because when I had my cancer and my other health issues, that’s why I went plant-based, because of what I was going through. If someone like me who was going through cancer can help their treatment and reverse what they were going through and better their health just because they are on a plant-based diet—it’s just a huge testament.”
Starting in her home at the beginning of the pandemic, battling health issues while taking care of her daughter, who has certain food allergies, Armenta began cooking the foods she loved, only healthier and plant-based.
“I realized that I was missing a lot of what I used to eat culturally and here in Salt Lake City there was nothing Latin-based for vegan food,” Armenta said.
“My daughter has autism and a sensory (issue) with food and it was really hard because she was born with a dairy allergy as well, so she was just naturally more on a plant-based diet. It was hard when we all decided to go vegan together like we just couldn’t find anything that met our needs and my daughter’s needs so we just kind of started cooking some things at home for ourselves.”
Yumz is based off of family recipes. “I’ve worked in the food industry for a long time, but I’ve never been to culinary school. I’ve never been to baking school or anything. I’ve always said that I’ve only had the schooling of my mother and my grandmothers. It was all taught to me at home,” she said.
After enjoying the family recipes that she was making, Armenta decided to sell vegan empanadas out of her home through online posts.
“I wasn’t working—I was recovering from being sick and my mom had to end up quitting her job to help tend to me at home with my illness and to take care of my daughter, so we were kind of in a bad spot with not having funds to pay for bills so I kind of got desperate and decided ‘let’s see if anyone would want to buy our food,’” Armenta said.
Her online food sales became popular. She found herself dashing around town to make sales as her business took off.
“It’s very humbling every day when I get to go inside of Yumz because I never started this to want to open up a business—it was more for survival mode,” Armenta said. “We were doing a cottage business from home and after about eight months of doing it we got enough platform and clientele that we thought maybe we could look into actually having a store.”
Yumz, which stands for Your Ultimate Munchies Zone, was anticipated as being a store where customers could pick up plant-based items without having to go to different stores.
“I thought we were going to just have a smaller bakery and like a little store and then a café with a little bit of food but then the people of Salt Lake City spoke, and they really wanted to have Latin food and then it blew up and so that’s how we have this restaurant,” Armenta said. “It has just been so busy with the food that I just haven’t had time to focus on my original concept of Yumz, but we are really grateful and humble for it.
“When we first started Yumz a lot of our clientele weren’t even vegan—they were just people who had allergies and they really loved the food because we specialize in our mock meats—it looks and tastes like the real thing, and it helps those who are transitioning into that plant-based lifestyle.”
“I’m just here to spread awareness and love. Love can go through food in so many ways. You can go to any country, and anybody can reciprocate food as a one language. So, if we can show our love in our food for people, we can also do it in a healthy way,” Armenta said.
With those Google data ratings, the future looks bright for the small vegan business, and Armenta’s dream of incorporating a store with the café could soon come to fruition. “It’s amazing. I had no idea that we were third best in the country on Google. All I can say is that I am so honored and grateful for all of that,” Armenta said.
Being a top-rated restaurant has given Armenta and her team extra motivation to achieve higher.
Yumz’s head chef, Edgar Ariza, had little experience in vegan dining and is now on a plant-based way of life. “I was not vegan but since I started working here, like I get home and it’s a lot of the same food. So I say, ‘C.C., you’re the one who made me vegan, and that’s a good thing because it’s also very healthy,’” Ariza said. “C.C. let me learn and showed me the way. When C.C. told me about it, I was really happy to hear that because third place in the whole United States is not easy to do. Hopefully, we can be in first place but being in the third place means a lot, especially for C.C. because she is the one who put in a lot of effort to make this restaurant working, and we do our best to help her. Our customers always have a compliment, and it’s something that pushes me to keep working harder.”
Armenta credits her success to several factors.
“You really can accomplish anything if you want it, and work hard enough because I wasn’t trying to open up a store and do everything that I have now; I was just trying to survive, but once you have those who really love you and support you and are willing to encourage you to be better and do better then you really can do anything you put your mind and heart to.”