Gluten free cooking is a test of character. Just ask Ali Kuhfus, the Iowa State student who tackeled bringing sweet delights to celiacs.
Kuhfus, owner of Ali’s Cupcakes in Ames, a private, in-home bakery started her bakery off of gluten-free products. With her mother and brother both having Celiac, Ali grew up eating a lot of gluten-free foods, and seemed to find no major difference between them and regular, non- gluten-free foods.
“I always loved baking, especially cupcakes, and did some research. I found very few bakeries that even had anything gluten-free, because they were worried about cross-contamination with their non-gluten-free baked goods. Since my family has always had a gluten-free oven of sorts, I figured why not start something,” Kuhfus said.
Kuhfus, a sophomore at Iowa State, is studying Education and wants to become a Home Economics teacher at the High School level.
“Even though my business is in no way “thriving,” yet, I do have some religious customers who thank me every day for what I am doing. I want to teach that to my students someday. Not only the value of a customer, but also the idea of going out of the box with your creativity. That’s what I’m striving for with my gluten-free cupcakes,” said Kuhfus.
Though the gluten-free industry is growing by the minute, the challenges that come with having a successful gluten-free business are countless.
“Even though I’ve only really considered my business a “business” for about a year and a half, I’m already learning the hard way about the many difficulties that come with it,” Kuhfus said.
Celiac disease, levels of intolerance and allergies to wheat and gluten vary greatly between each person. While some people with a low intolerance might not react to eating a product with gluten in it, some people with high intolerance can’t even be exposed to gluten physically. The same levels vary in people with Celiac Disease.
“I have two people in my family who have Celiac, so I like to think I’m as “gluten-free” as possible when baking. But I still have to be cautious of it every day when baking and with every order. You never know when someone is going to come knocking at your door saying they ate one of your supposedly gluten-free cupcakes, and was sick for the next week over it,” said Kuhfus.
It costs her twice as much to make a cupcake, but despite the pressure on the wallet, Kuhfus is determined to make a difference.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely expensive,” laughed Kuhfus. “The thing is, you really have to be passionate about what you’re doing when you are baking gluten-free because you probably aren’t going to profit much for awhile. The ingredients are so expensive, so unfortunately you have to charge a lot more for the cupcakes for things to even out. So that eliminates a lot of my customers who don’t HAVE to eat gluten-free, because why would they spend 2 more dollars testing out a gluten-free cupcake when they can just have a normal one for a lot cheaper?”
So why a cupcakery? Over the last several years, the growth in a selected type of bakery boomed, cupcakes taking the lead. While some people believed the industry would fade out, a recent report from Balboa Capital, a business equipment company, shows no sign of decrease in cupcakeries to happen anytime soon. In a recent blog from Balboa, they report that cupcake sales are expected to rise 20% in the next five years. The tasty treats are becoming increasingly popular for graduation parties, birthday parties, and even weddings, replacing traditional cakes.
“People love the diversity that cupcakes can bring to a party or celebration of sorts. You no longer have to serve only one flavor of cake, and have people not eating it because they don’t want that flavor. Cupcakes give you the availability to have numerous flavors at your events and everyone can be happy!” Kuhfus said.
Although the industry of only gluten-free bakeries is still on the rise, already famous cupcakeries are making the change and adding them to their menus, like this red velvet gluten-free cupcake from Sprinkles Cupcakes. Sprinkles has locations in Beverly Hills, Chicago, Dallas, Groveton, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York to name a few.
They are one of the most popular, celebrity-endorsed cupcakeries in the US serving up celebrities like Tyra Banks, Kelly Rippa, and even Martha Stewert.
Making a gluten-free cupcake has only sky-rocketed their already booming business in the big name groups, even using the cupcakes for charity fundraisers. From October 29- November 6, Sprinkles donates the profits made off of their vegan and gluten-free cupcakes to Americans for the Arts, a non-profit organization that works to serve, advance and lead the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America.
With the cupcake industry booming comes the shadowed industry behind it, the gluten-free cupcake business. Though the numbers aren’t quite as big as non-gluten-free cupcakeries, the gluten-free business is making a name for itself in the best way possible, by serving the overlooked customers, who may soon become THE customers.
Ali’s Cupcakes, and other bakeries like it will continue to grow, because according to Ali, “Everyone deserves a good cupcake.”