Sweet Freedom Bakery is a gluten-free, vegan and allergy-friendly bakery based in Philadelphia. Co-owner Heather Esposito shared the story of she and Allison Lubert brought a dream to life.
Imagine you are gluten-intolerant, pre-diabetic and lactose intolerant with an intense sweet tooth and want to eat a piece of cake. What would you do? Well, 5 years ago the only thing I could do was either be sad because there was nothing I could eat, or figure out how to make something myself…so I did the latter.
Having very little experience in the kitchen, I set out to create baked goods that were free of gluten, refined sugar, dairy and eggs. And when I say not much experience, I am being generous. My kitchen skills didn’t go much beyond grilled cheese, boxed mac n’ cheese, boxed cake mixes and one really delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe – all foods that were now off-limits to me.
As I began to play around in the kitchen my motto became “one step closer to success” as much of what I was creating was barely edible. I became frustrated and wanted to give up. But then I’d go for a run, and an idea would come into my head as to how I could make the recipe better, and I’d literally head back to the kitchen.
At the around that time, I was working as a health counselor, attending The Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, and doing private chef work. As it turns out, I had clients who were not only intolerant to gluten or sensitive to sugars, but also allergic to soy, nuts and corn. I was quickly becoming obsessed with the idea of extending beyond making treats for myself into opening a whole bakery that was not only free of gluten, dairy, eggs and refined sugar, but also free of other allergens to accommodate as many people as possible.
After graduating culinary school, I transitioned from health counseling and private chef work into working as a prep-cook in a restaurant. I would spend 7-8 hours a day in the restaurant then come home and spend 5 or more hours in my kitchen working on recipes.
…or doing research.
…or writing a business plan.
…or dreaming up a name for the bakery.
…or doing tastings to get feedback on products. Just anything to figure out how to make this dream come true.
In May of 2009, my colleague Allison Lubert and I were talking one day about the idea of a bakery and decided to do it. We jumped right in to finding a location, getting proper licenses, building out the bakery, creating a logo, developing more recipes and everything else that needed to be done to make this dream a reality.
Very few steps were easy, but in the end they were all worth it. On January 15, 2010, Sweet Freedom Bakery opened its doors and we’ve been going “by the seat of our pantyhose” every since.
There have been many highs – hearing, “This is the first time our child can eat anything in a bakery,” being on “Cupcake Wars” and “Food(ography),” and developing great relationships with our regular customers. There have also been many lows – working 10-12 hours a day, rarely having a day off, hearing a vendor say they are out of a product and stressing over how to find a new purveyor. Working in the foodservice business and with the public is truly a “by the seat of our pantyhose” experience. But it’s one that we’d never trade in.