Life should be sweet for kids, especially around the holidays. However, for children with food allergies, visions of sugar plums can mean a trip to the emergency room. Such was the scenario that prompted Michele Fellows to launch Sweet Alexis, an allergy-friendly bakery in Los Osos named after her daughter.
As you probably guessed, Alexis has some serious food allergies, so severe that everywhere she goes and everything she eats has to be carefully monitored. Among the many ingredients she can’t tolerate are dairy, nuts, eggs, peanuts and lactose.
Obviously, most sweet treats are ruled out for children with these kinds of allergies, not a fun situation for a kid and particularly not when it singles them out as being different. It was with the aim of “letting these kids have normal experiences” that Fellows started developing dairy-free, egg-free, peanut- and nut-free products.
“I didn’t even like baking,” she said, “but now I’m ‘The Cookie Lady’!”
Since starting Sweet Alexis in 2008, Fellows has baked countless batches of chocolate chip, oatmeal and shortbread cookies, and now also produces cupcakes, applesauce raisin muffins, blueberry muffins, “Decadent Chocolate Cake,” and three breads — banana, zucchini and pumpkin raisin. (They’re not gluten-free, but Fellows does stock gluten-free flour at Sweet Alexis for purchase.)
All the items are baked in the Los Osos facility, which is entirely dedicated to this type of production so that any possibility of cross-contamination is eliminated. Furthermore, the retail space that’s open to the public is also maintained as an allergy-free zone, with absolutely no outside food and drink allowed.
For the holidays, Fellows hopes to add ginger and oatmeal chocolate chip to the Sweet Alexis cookie lineup, and noted that “the shortbread cookies can be decorated just like traditional holiday sugar cookies,” albeit with vegan frosting.
If free-this, free-that and vegan don’t get your taste buds excited, rest assured that all these treats definitely taste like treats. Even the toughest of critics, kids themselves, “can’t tell the difference,” said Fellows, noting that some school classes have gotten dozens of cupcakes and batches of the shortbread cookies for everyone to decorate and enjoy, not just the kids with allergies.
Often, such an occasion turns into a chance to educate students, teachers and parents about food allergies, which is also important to Fellows.
“You know, everybody’s got their ‘thing’ that makes them different,” she said. “If it’s food allergies, you can help teach children what that ‘thing’ is.”
When she started Sweet Alexis, Fellows understandably had some specific goals in mind, first and foremost the health of her daughter.
She admits that she really had no idea what lay ahead. Unbeknownst to her, there were very few similar bakeries in the country, and Sweet Alexis is still “the only dairy-free, egg-free, peanut- and nut-free wholesale bakery west of the Mississippi.”
As word began to get out in the food allergy community, praise and orders for Sweet Alexis products began to come in. At this point, most of the demand comes from the East Coast, but Fellows has also gotten international inquiries from as far away as Iceland.
“People call me and share their stories because I get their plight,” she said. “They thank me for what I’m doing, but this is really therapy for me.”