Baking Up Nut-Free Desserts
This weekend, while in Chicago for Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to sit down with Brian Walker, co-owner of Nutphree’s Bakery in Mt. Prospect, IL. As the name states, this business focuses solely on providing high-quality nut-free dessert options to those who have peanut and tree nut allergies like me. I was thrilled to discover a bakery that is not only safe, but their treats are yummy (I sampled the cupcakes and cookies). Read our conversation below and then head on out to their Mt. Prospect location, look for their products in a grocery store near you or order online. Q: I know your 10-year-old son was your inspiration for starting this bakery. When did you become aware of his peanut allergy?
Brian: We found out a little after his first birthday — you know when the pediatrician says to introduce new foods. I remember coming home from work and my wife had given him a little peanut butter toast. He instantly broke out in hives; his eyes were bloodshot. At the time we were like “what is happening?” We didn’t have an EpiPen … we didn't know anything about it. That’s what kind of threw us into this world of food allergies.
Q: Do you, your wife or other children have food allergies?
Brian: No. I’m allergic to iodine. My wife is allergic to penicillin. We have two other children — neither of them has food allergies. My wife’s niece, though, found out she has a nut allergy and also just recently found out she has a sesame allergy.
Q: Does your son have any friends with severe food allergies?
Brian: At school he sits at the nut-free table, so he’s got a couple buddies there. At his old school (we recently moved), he had friends that could sit with him at the nut-free table as long as they brought a safe lunch. It was awesome to see them advocate for him. They would say, “Mom, I can’t have that. I’m going to sit with Dylan.” So we’re kind of getting that now at the new school.
Q: How does your son feel about being at the nut-free table?
Brian: It doesn’t really bother him. He’s used to it I think. Before, I think it bothered us more than it did him. The table at his new school is small, and it doesn’t even look like the rest of the tables, but he likes it. It’s only about 15-20 minutes that they’re actually sitting there, so it’s not a big deal.
Q: Has being nut-free limited your business?
Brian: Well, when we first started, we just targeted nut-free customers. My wife and I started out in the kitchen of our home — we had no culinary degrees, so it was very limiting in that sense. But now we get customers who just like our baked goods because we use high-quality ingredients. We also do some really cool stuff, for example, with the Chicago Cubs. I had previously met the head chef who tried some of our cupcakes. One of the player’s son has a nut allergy so he said to the player, “Hey, I know where you can get a nut-free cake.” So we did a birthday cake for the player’s son. Everybody loved it so much that they made us the sole provider of all of the cakes.
Q: Is it hard to find manufacturers that are nut-free?
Brian: It is because a lot of these big companies won’t really give you anything in writing. But that’s just not good enough. Our customers look at our place as a safe haven, so we try really, really hard to make sure we do that. But in addition to that, we do third-party allergen testing because things change.
Q: Was it challenging for you to find grocery stores that were willing to carry your products? Do you plan to expand outside of the Midwest?
Brian: We’re in over 100 grocery stores. We have a meeting set up that will hopefully lead to us being available in all Whole Food locations. We are constantly being contacted by people in Los Angeles and New York, asking when are we going to be available in their area, so there’s definitely a need for it.
Q: What is one thing that you would say to the parent of a child with a peanut allergy?
Brian: There’s hope.