Alicia Casas has a passion for teaching and baking, but they didn’t always go hand in hand. Born and raised in the East Bay, Casas grew up in a Mexican-American household, where her life was imbued with every aspect of her culture: she spoke Spanish, watched Spanish-language TV, ate Mexican food and learned to cook recipes that had been passed down generations.

But in her job as an elementary schoolteacher, Casas rarely had the time or energy to create her delicious desserts and pastries. In a bold move six years ago, she quit her career and adopted a vegan diet, which of course would impact her work in the kitchen.

“My style is vegan baking, and it has a cultural aspect,” says Casas, who, in addition to her busy schedule of cooking for clients and farmers market, now teaches as a Mexican-American studies professor at San Jose State University, where she also earned her master’s. “I am bringing in the Mexican pastries that I grew up with and making those accessible to folks.”

Casas’ business, Jaguar Bakery, lives by the motto “vive vegano,” or “live vegan,” which debuted in April at the Japantown Farmers Market in San Jose.

The goal is to not only promote the healthy lifestyle of veganism, but also prove to people that it can still be delicious. The hardest part of Casas’ journey to becoming fully vegan, she says, was giving up traditional desserts and pastries. But then she started reaching out to vegan bakers, which inspired her to open her own business.

As of now, Casas does not have a physical bakery outside of her home, but plans to eventually a brick-and-mortar operation with her sister.

Jaguar Bakery is moving toward going 100 percent organic, which has been slowed a bit because Casas lacks access to bulk materials. But most of the fruits and vegetables she uses in her baking come from local farms. Being conscientious with the ingredients, she also uses almond milk, organic margarine and non-hydrogenated shortenings.

Bringing these offerings to SJSU’s campus and Japantown has energized Casas to the point that she has plenty of energy in between grading assignments for her four classes and baking.

“Japantown is a really great community because there’s so much history, and it’s really modern and art-focused,” Casas said. “It’s the type of place I want to be associated with because our desserts are naturally beautiful and delicious.”

Jaguar Baker