A Sweet Start: She Opened a Bakery at 17 for Those with Food Allergies

Jennifer LaSala started her first bakery at age 17 and won the local high school business plan competition in Chelsea, Massachusetts, coming in third place out of 1,100 students at the regional competition. As a student at Johnson & Wales University, she expanded her recipe repertoire, eventually being named Goldman Sachs Entrepreneur of the Year at age 20.

Treatment for a freak accident a year later led LaSala to discover that she had food allergies, and so she expanded her efforts further to serve others in this community. Today, she runs her own shop in Boston with plans to open another in nearby Worcester. People come from all over New England for her wares, which are now not only gluten free but also free of all other major allergens. You can find her at Jennifer Lee’s Allergen Friendly & Vegan Shoppe and jenniferleesshoppe.com.

Gluten-Free Living asked LaSala about her inspiration for gluten-free baking to get to know her shop better.

What prompted you to enter the world of gluten-free foods?

I entered into the world of gluten free when I fell at work and broke my neck. While recovering, I broke out in hives constantly, and doctors told me that I had a gluten and dairy allergy. I later found out that I am actually allergic to opioids, but the experience of having to stay away from gluten and dairy, and how difficult it felt to live a normal life, is what made me what to help others with food allergies.

What do you see as the main differences between gluten-free foods and their gluten-containing counterparts?

I would say that two main differences would be, one, the cost and, two, the need to use multiple flours to achieve similar results. The flour that I buy for the bakery is more than twice the price of white flour. The fact gluten-free ingredients cost so much more money is ridiculous. In order for our products to taste just as good or even better than their gluten-filled counterparts we have to use a mix of flours and other ingredients to get that texture that holds together, isn’t gritty, and just overall tastes great.

What is the biggest misconception about gluten-free foods?

The biggest misconception for gluten-free foods is that it all tastes like cardboard. Yes, back in the day it did because gluten free was new and people would have rather eaten cardboard-like items than get sick with gluten. However, gluten free has come a long way, and now you really can’t tell the difference with a lot of products. 

How do you hope to change the view of gluten-free foods among the general public?

I try my best to change this misconception by having people sample our products, and usually I don’t even tell them that it is gluten free, so that they are not biased. The look on their face when they realize that gluten free can actually taste good makes me so happy! And that experience will help this misconception go away.

Which is your favorite gluten-free recipe?

My favorite gluten-free recipe is my mom’s banana bread. Not only is it the best banana bread that I have ever eaten, but the smell of it when we are baking it fills the market and fills everyone who walks by with memories of that special someone making banana bread for them when they were younger.

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