It recently occurred to us that in all of the hustle and bustle of getting our store up and running, we never took the time to tell our story in a meaningful way. So we decided to take a short break from the “Common Food Allergies” series we have been working on to talk about ourselves for a change. What follows is the story of how Safe Sweets grew from a dream, to an interesting idea, to an up and coming start-up with a very promising future.
is an allergy friendly chocolate business located in Cleveland, Ohio. We are family owned and operated, and make all of our products by hand. This is our story.
As a young adult, I worked in the food industry. I enjoyed working in restaurants, but my favorite experience was working in a local bakery. It was always a dream of mine to have my own bakery. Then again, it always seemed like a pipe dream when I was younger. Many years ago, however, my husband and I made a promise to one another. We agreed that after he finished graduate school and passed his CPA exams, we would open our own bakery. I would give him all of the support he needed to get his CPA license, and then he would support me in starting my bakery. Shortly after he passed his final exam, we got to work. We started creating our menu, which included my mom’s decadent cheesecake, my sister’s amazing chocolate chip cookies, my chocolate mousse cake, and several other amazing family recipes. The planning stage dragged on for a while, but we eventually got to a point where we were ready to start looking for a shop to rent.
An interesting idea…
When we finally shared our plans with the family, my sister approached me with an interesting idea: how about a gluten free and/or allergen friendly bakery? You see, my sister has a genetic predisposition to Celiac Disease (in laymen’s terms, she has the gene but not the disease). And while she has not (yet) developed Celiac Disease, she has to be extremely careful about what she eats. Her symptoms can be incredibly unpleasant when she eats anything containing wheat. Additionally, she has allergies to shellfish and wine, and shares a fairly severe lactose intolerance with her youngest daughter (my youngest niece), Kelsey (age 8 at the time). My sister asked me to at least consider a gluten and/or allergen friendly bakery, and even offered to help me find allergen friendly recipes and ingredients. My husband and I also have a number of close friends who either have food allergies or have children with food allergies. Even still, I was hardly sold on the idea at this point. We agreed to look into it, but I was still leaning towards my original plan.
Now, my mother had been working as a chocolatier in an allergen friendly confectionary for over eight years and absolutely loved making chocolates. However, she was considering retirement due to health reasons. Moreover, she worked for a very small company that did not offer her benefits such as medical insurance or any paid time off. She truly loved what she was doing. But with her health slowly deteriorating, the lack of even basic employee benefits was becoming more and more of an issue. This is where the lightbulb switched on in my head. With my mom’s love for making chocolates, my sister’s and niece’s food allergies/intolerances, and my passion for baking and sweets, it started to feel like the “stars were aligning.” Being married to a newly minted CPA didn’t hurt either, but that would have been the same whether we opened our original bakery or an allergen friendly one.
“Just hear me out…”
With my sister’s help, we started contacting friends of hers and ours within the food allergy community to gauge the level of interest and listen to their needs and preferences. This is where the tide turned yet again. There was apparently no shortage of gluten free and/or allergen friendly bakeries popping up, but only a few local options when it came to chocolate. Moreover, one of the most common things we heard was disappointment in some of the products from the national brands. Surprisingly, we heard that taste and even consistency were common criticisms of even the mainstream corporate brands that had entered the allergen friendly market. It quickly became clear to me that there was an almost insatiable demand for allergen friendly chocolates. Well…a better tasting and more authentic version of these chocolates, anyways.
“Just hear me out,” I told my husband. “I know it took what seemed like forever to get you on board with the bakery idea, but what if we do chocolate instead?” “My mom could retire and come work for us part-time for a while, and we could spend so much more time together!” “Frankly, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner!” My husband told me he would “think about it.” But I knew that look as soon as I saw it, and could see the wheels spinning in his head already. It just made so much sense. Not only was the demand for the products there, but this was an opportunity for my mom and I to work together…an opportunity for her to spend the remainder of her productive years investing in my and my family’s future (at this point, we had a newborn baby boy on our hands). And if we worked hard enough, we could build a business that was large enough to offer my mom (and any other employees) health insurance, paid time off, and other employee benefits.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
“When you think about it, we have everything we need right here,” I told my husband. “God only knows the amazing treats my mom and I can come up with if we put our heads together. And if you can help me here and there on the business end of things, there’s no telling what we could achieve.” “We all bring something different to the table, and when you put all of us together, we could truly do something amazing!” My husband told me not to get my hopes up, but I knew I was on to something. And I knew he knew I was on to something, too. We both agreed to do some additional research in the industry. And perhaps more importantly, he agreed to keep an open mind.
The research was something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, my business idea was suddenly looking very promising. The rise in food allergies over the past few decades was exponential, and there appeared to be no end in sight. The market was there. On the other hand, though, how depressing! Watching our niece cope with her severe dairy intolerance was bad enough. But the fact that there are so many people who are one sip or bite away from an early grave is another matter entirely. And I think it was those individual stories that pushed me over the edge. Reading article after article in various FA blogs and magazines, I was deeply moved by the stories of both children and adults with food allergies. The anxiety they feel when going out to dinner. The uncertainty they experience during the first couple bites of a new food. And perhaps the most shocking part about all of it is that this burden falls primarily on children…children Kelsey’s age, often times even younger.
Safe Sweets is born
At that moment, we made it our mission to create delicious, allergen friendly chocolates that tasted amazing and were completely care free! The business plan and number crunching weren’t easy (as my husband can certainly attest). But without a doubt, the hardest part was carefully sourcing all of the ingredients. We wanted to find the best tasting ingredients we could, but that also met all of our various allergen requirements. Many times, a specific ingredient looked promising, only to find out after doing a deeper dive that there were, say, tree nuts processed on the same machinery as the “nut free” product we were thinking about buying! It literally took months of web searches, e-mail inquiries and phone calls to finalize the ingredients for our initial product offerings. Looking back, though, that was probably when we gave ourselves the “green light” and decided to take the plunge.
Interestingly, the first name any of us thought of for this business was “Safe Sweets – Allergen Friendly Chocolates.” We played around with some other names, but nothing else came even close. It was concise, it rolled off the tongue, and it just had a ring to it.
From “just a business” to “a mission”
For my husband, however, it was still just a business decision at this point. There was a market for the products we were offering. We had the wherewithal to fill the demand. And we could turn a small profit in the process. It was as simple as that. But he can tell you exactly when it turned into something more than a garden variety business decision. “It was that video,” he said, as if I had any idea what video he was talking about. “That F.A.R.E. video.” “In Their Own Words – Kids Living With Food Allergies.” The first time he watched it on YouTube, his mindset changed almost immediately.
An avid Peaceful Parenting and Children’s Rights advocate, my husband was deeply moved by the stories he heard in the children’s own words. “You take a condition that would be very intimidating to manage, even for an adult…and you give it to a small child,” he says. “They have parents to look after them, sure. But their parents can’t be with them every second of every day. A great deal of responsibility falls on the child no matter what. There’s just no way around that.” “You’re a kid, and eating lunch or dinner (or even a snack) is like a life and death event.” I think that’s when my husband got the idea about adding the Safe Sweets Allergen Friendly Blog. It provides an additional opportunity for us to connect with everyone, from our customers to the rest of the FA community. It took us several months to get the Blog up and running. But we did it. And we are committed to adding content regularly.
Doing what we love, and loving what we do
We truly love what we do, from making the chocolates to wrapping them in our eye-catching packaging. But most of all, we love providing people with delicious chocolate treats that they would otherwise not be able to eat. And we promise to keep coming up with creative, amazing chocolates that taste great and take “health snacks” to the next level.
From our family to yours, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for choosing and trusting us to keep you safe from food allergens. We understand that you’re trusting us with your and your loved ones’ lives and we take your confidence very seriously. When we tell you our chocolate is allergy free, we mean it. When we tell you that there are no nuts and no dairy of any kind in our products or our facility, we mean it. And when we tell you that we scoured the marketplace for fresh, allergen friendly ingredients, it’s because that’s exactly what we did. Keeping you and your loved ones safe from food allergens is our number one priority. In fact, we focus on and talk about how allergy friendly our products are so much that people are often quite surprised by how good they actually taste. Don’t believe us? Then place your order today and prepare to be delighted!
-Ashley, Don & Brayden (the “Safe” Family)