Pam Nicholas launched her business, Izzi B's, and proved Plato's truism, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Her daughter, Isabella, affectionately known as Izzi B, had been diagnosed with an egg allergy right before her first birthday. While going through the shock and dismay that many parents may feel after receiving this diagnosis, Nicholas focused on her daughter's upcoming birthday party and set out to find the best egg-free cupcakes available.
Nicholas discovered that the cupcakes had either a dry, crumbly texture, an unappealing flavor, or in some cases, both. While learning to cope with her daughter's egg allergy and continuing her search for tasty options, she connected with other parents whose children had a variety of food allergies. They bonded over stories of raising their children in a world that isn't always receptive to their needs. All agreed some of the toughest times are birthday parties when cakes and other treats are served. "It's not easy to watch your child be singled out with a special treat brought from home," explains Nicholas. They lamented that most of the commercially available allergen-free options were less than satisfactory.
Luckily for little Isabella, Nicholas happens to be a professionally-trained chef. This is where the "invention" part comes in. She decided she could do better. Her goal was a tasty cupcake that anyone could, and more important, would want to, eat. She read books on food science and baking, haunted the aisles of Whole Foods looking for ingredients, and spent months testing and retesting recipes. Her standards were high and her restrictions, extensive: no wheat or gluten; no soy, eggs, dairy, or casein; no nuts or seeds; and no refined sugars, honey or apples. Oh, and for good measure, no preservatives or trans fats. Sounds pretty tasty, hmm? After nine months, Nicholas came up with a recipe that met her expectations. As she started sharing her cupcakes with friends, their "oohs" and "ahhs" convinced her she was onto a business opportunity. Izzi B's was born.
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In the summer of 2009, Nicholas found the perfect location in Norwalk to open her wholesale business. A caterer had previously occupied the space so much of the equipment was already in place. Her first offerings were vanilla or chocolate cake with a white "ice box" frosting. She wanted her cupcakes to appeal to adults as well as children so she piped the frosting on in a fun, yet sophisticated polka-dot design.
Nicholas has focused on distributing her cupcakes and cakes through independent, specialty markets such as The Village Market, Ridgefield Organic & Specialty Market, and The Pantry in Fairfield, where they are typically sold in the freezer section. She also recognizes the value of local farmer's markets. "One of my favorite moments is when people warily approach my booth and taste one of my treats. I get to see the surprise and delight in their eyes," Nicholas says. "While my cupcakes are great for anyone with food allergies, they are also a healthier alternative for just about anyone who wants a treat without all the 'bad' stuff found in regular cupcakes." Her "minis" weigh in at just 110 calories.
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Response to Izzi B's has been phenomenal. According to loyal customer, Janet Hartery of New Canaan, "There is nothing else like this for families dealing with food allergies. " Nicholas is already ahead of her two-year goal in her business plan. She has been developing more flavors and expanding her geographical distribution. Recently Izzi B's caught the attention of a major TV personality who invited Nicholas to promote her treats on her show. She was ecstatic, but when she learned she would have to give out the recipe, she declined the opportunity. "I worked too hard to come up with a great product," she says. At this point, she is taking it day by day. As a single mother of a now five-year old, she's happy with how her business is cooking along..
BY LAURA HUSSEY