NAMI Austin is teaming up with the local dessert catering company Sugar Fashionista for Austin’s first Depressed Cake Shop on May 14. Photo from Sugar Fashionista.

Who knew a gray cookie with a burst of rainbow color under the frosting could help someone struggling with depression?

About two years ago, Karen Ranus, executive director of the Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, heard about Depressed Cake Shops, pop-up events featuring themed baked goods that aim to bring together people struggling with — or who want to support others who are struggling with — mental health. “I just fell in love with the idea. I thought it would be a great way to start a conversation in a different way about mental health,” Ranus says.

“Food has this amazing capacity to bring us together, bring our ideas together, and (the pop-up cake shop) creates this opportunity to have this conversation in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable,” she says. The effort started in the United Kingdom in 2012 and has grown to include events in Houston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

From noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Austin MD magazine is hosting the third annual “Keep Austin Well” City-Wide Health Fair at the Great Lawn of the Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, where dozens of local organizations and companies will be talking about all kinds of health and wellness issues.

That’s where NAMI and the bakers behind Sugar Fashionista will team up for Austin’s first Depressed Cake Shop, which will feature gray cupcakes, cookies, cake pops and more sweets that are decorated with images and pops of color that will spark conversations about depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that we too often ignore or avoid talking about.

Ranus knew she’d need an enthusiastic baking partner for the event, and she found that with Vanessa Marty and Beatriz Gamboa-Marty, the owners of Sugar Fashionista (, a local dessert catering company that is making all the treats that will be for sale at the event and whose proceeds will benefit the free classes, support groups and programming that NAMI hosts throughout the year.

Ranus became the first executive director of the organization after almost losing her 18-year-old daughter to depression and suicide about five years ago. “Part of the reason I do the work I do is because one of the things my daughter said was that she was too embarrassed to talk about (her mental health struggles). She didn’t let anyone know how bad things had become for her,” she says.

One in five Americans will have a mental health condition, Ranus says, but with modern treatment and lots of support, recovery is possible. Her daughter overcame her struggles and is now finishing her college degree in Oregon. “If you had told me five years ago (that she’d be independent and thriving), I wouldn’t have thought it was possible.”

You can find out more about the Depressed Cake Shop and the many free classes and support groups that NAMI Austin offers at If you’re a baker who would like to work with NAMI Austin on future pop-up Depressed Cake Shops, you can email Ranus at