By Seth Daniel
Jennifer LaSala’s donuts have been known to make people whole.
But it’s not just her donuts, it’s all of her baked goods, and the budding baker said her specialty allergy-free company – which now has a permanent spot in the Boston Public Market – has brought tears to the eyes of parents who have never been able to give their kids simple things like a cookie or a donut.
“They always ask me what’s in my items and I say it’s magic,” said LaSala, 22, who lives in Revere, grew up in Revere and graduated from Chelsea High School. “One family I met during an allergy awareness event had never been able to give their daughter a donut. She could not go to a bakery because of her numerous allergies and it made her parents sad. They were so happy to see that there was a bakery their daughter could go to. Some parents have never been able to give their child a treat. Some parents cry when they find out my bakery is safe for them. If you don’t have allergies, you don’t think of the struggles people have who do have allergies. It is often an emotional experience for parents.”
LaSala runs Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery and she has decided to tap into the market of children and adults who are limited by allergies. She recently was the first short-term pop up vendor at the Market to move into a permanent vendor space, and she’s been enjoying a brisk business every since.
“I am gluten free, egg free, dairy free and nut free,” she said recently while staffing her booth in Boston’s popular new marketplace. “I decided I’m going to be gluten free and be the best at it. Now, you can’t taste the difference between my gluten-free and my regular bakery items. The next thing that’s coming is sesame and coconut and I’m working on being sesame free and coconut free as well. By the end of April, I want to be soy free.”
Since March 6, LaSala has offered Maple Bacon Bourbon donuts and cookies and muffins and cupcakes – all of which are safe to eat for those with food allergies who are perusing the aisles of the Public Market. The Market opened last summer and those accepted into the bustling space have to source ingredients locally and have to have a unique business – as LaSala does.
“We’re excited to welcome Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery back to the Boston Public Market after an outstanding January pop-up,” said Tiffani Emig, director of Market Operations for the Boston Public Market. “Since our opening last July, we’ve heard many customer requests for gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods, and we are delighted to be able to expand those offerings.”
LaSala produces all of her products in a commercial kitchen in Malden and sources ingredients such as jams, maple syrup, apple cider syrup, fruits, vegetables, and alcohol from local farms such as Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth (another Boston Public Market vendor), Brooksby Farm in Peabody, and Russell’s Orchards in Ipswich.
“There really is no one who has done what I do,” she said. “It took a little bit of trial and error, but now I’m fine. In the beginning, it didn’t taste right, so there was a lot of trial and error. That’s what it takes, though.”
LaSala doesn’t have allergies.
In recovering from a car accident, LaSala grew slightly sensitive to gluten and her body reacted. She thought it was going to be permanent, and though it wasn’t, she developed a real appreciation for those who couldn’t eat the foods she commonly enjoyed.
LaSala had always baked, taking on her mother’s recipes often, and attended Johnson & Wales in Providence – graduating last November with an Entrepreneurship degree.
LaSala grew up in Revere, going to the McKinley, the Garfield Middle and to Revere High for two years. In her junior year, her family moved to Chelsea and she had to finish her last two years at Chelsea High.
While in high school, she began her first business called ‘Sugar Coated Heaven,’ which debuted at the Revere Farmer’s Market on the Beach.
“I started that because I always thought about making candy,” she said. “I used to sit on my front steps and sell candy to the neighborhood kids. I knew I wanted to have my own bakery or candy company even as a child.”
That was almost derailed though when she moved to Chelsea High.
“It was rough,” said LaSala. “I was ready to quit school and leave and I had a 3.8 GPA. I was being bullied and harassed. I was ready to get out of there. My teachers came to me and convinced me to stay. I got involved in the Future Entrepreneurs class with Ms. Gail Trainor and it made me stay. I began to get involved in that class and focused in on it. I loved that class. It was so good.”
After winning 1st place at the Chelsea High Business Plan Competition, she went on to win 3rd place out of 1,100 students at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s Regional Business Plan Competition. LaSala then put herself through business courses at Johnson & Wales by selling her baked goods at local farmers markets. In 2013, she was named Global Entrepreneur of the Year for all of New England by Goldman Sachs.
Still today, she relies upon what she learned in the innovative class at Chelsea High for things such as writing her business plan. She also hasn’t given up on the Farmer’s Markets either, planning to be at the Revere, Winthrop Stoneham and SoWa (South End Boston) markets this summer.
In the future, she said she’d like to establish a presence on the North Shore and to do more commercial baking.
“It’s weird right now not to have goals because my goal was to open up a store and now I have that here at the Market Thursday through Sunday,” she said. “I do want to open up a store on the North Shore because that’s where I’m from. After that, it will be getting into the wholesale market.”
LaSala currently lives in Revere and her parents, Pat and Irene LaSala, reside in Chelsea.