Free Love Bakery where Health and Good Flavor Connect0
In two short months since opening the Free Love Bakery storefront in Portage, it has become a very popular spot with people who have food sensitivities. Business is booming and informational classes have been filling. But it's the story behind the doors that leaves us saying, "you've come a long way, baby!"
The start-up history has been quite a journey for owner Julie Fox. Like many people, she needed to follow a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale. It is like glue, which helps with the elasticity in many kinds of dough. Unfortunately it can also cause health problems.
The number of people who have a gluten sensitivity is largely unknown-some doctors say seven percent of the population, while others say it is more like 30 percent. After years of being misdiagnosed and prescribed many medications, it came as a blessing when Fox would eliminate certain foods and almost immediately feel better. Fox has now been gluten, dairy, and soy-free for seven years.
Still, Fox missed some of the foods she had to give up. It was her overwhelming desire for pizza, and other baked goods, that motivated her to create and bake gluten-free focaccia, cupcakes, sandwich bread, and more.
It all started in her own kitchen. "The first was the pizza crust, because I just really wanted some pizza," said Fox. As she created more items, she began selling them at the Bank Street Farmers Market.
A full-time nurse, Fox saw how people reacted to not being able to eat breads and pastries, things they loved-but made them sick.
"I met one mom who was almost in tears, saying that her son had never tasted a cinnamon roll," said Fox. "I have formed a bond with those people who are now free to eat what they couldn't, similar to the bond with a patient."
As her products became more and more popular Fox outgrew her space at home. In 2014 it was time to find more space and that is how she came to use the food incubator, at the Can-Do Kitchen in Kalamazoo. A licensed kitchen space they allow new and existing food entrepreneurs to produce and sell food products. Services include basic kitchen equipment, business start-up resources, marketing assistance, and commercial kitchen training.
"The people there wanted to see me succeed. They met with me weekly and helped me make connections," said Fox.
Equipped with the knowledge she had gained from her customers and local support, Fox entered the 2015 Michigan Women's Foundation Business Plan and Pitch Competition. She came home with $5,000 and dreams of opening a storefront.
"Our goal is to create delicious food that people with sensitivities can enjoy, and provide food and a place for socializing," said Fox. So far, so good!
Everything that she and her partner, Shannon Brown make is custom blended. She works with about 12 different flours to get the right consistency and texture for all of the baked goods. Together, they have six kids, all of whom have offered their services of tasting new products.
The store features baked goods, take and bake meals (the chicken pot-pie is especially popular), local pasture-raised meats, salads, and quiches. They even have a section for bulk baking ingredients.
They also offer classes, the most popular to date is 'Convert a Recipe' where participants can learn to use substitutes for their favorite recipes; and 'Ingredient Introduction,' where participants learn about the alternative flours to avoid allergy sensitivity.
Though the bakery keeps her busy, Fox is also a clinical nurse instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Her newest adventure has been helping launch the Mattawan Market, located at the McGillen Crossing on Thursday's from 4-7p.m. where you can also purchase Free Love Bakery products.
The people and resources in the Kalamazoo area have made all the difference for the bakery. "Everyone I've talked to has been very supportive," said Fox. "There really isn't anything else like this nearby."
Visit the Free Love Bakery at their location in the Portage Plaza, at 7620 S. Westnedge Avenue and like them on Facebook.