Imagine a 65-year-old man sitting at a restaurant table crying tears of joy as he eats a cinnamon roll. Seem a little strange, doesn't it?
What if you knew it was his first cinnamon roll in 30 years?
Denise Walsh, owner and founder of Gluten Free Miracles, finds this kind of happiness the most rewarding part of her work.
Gluten Free Miracles, 145 Burt Road, is a bakery and cafe committed to serving a variety of gluten-free foods, including baked goods, soups and pizzas.
Neither Walsh nor her son Connor can eat gluten — a protein composite found in wheat and related grains — and Connor's gluten intolerance is so severe that it compromised his immune system when he was young.
"He'd be in school for a day and then out for two weeks," Walsh said. Eventually, she took Connor out of school and home-schooled him for three years on his doctor's recommendation. His immune system improved, he went back to school, and Walsh decided to open Gluten Free Miracles.
Home-schooling Connor was scarier than the prospect of opening a business, Walsh said. She'd had business experience, having owned and operated Pure Talent, a Nashville-based casting company, for four years.
The casting business was really exciting at the time, but it showed her what was really important, she said. "I'd much rather make a difference," Walsh said.
Bonnie Cessna, who has been friends with Walsh for more than 30 years, said she was elated when she found out that Walsh was going to open the restaurant.
"I know her well enough to know that when she sets her head to something, she will be a success if she wants to be," Cessna said. "She has done exactly what I would expect."
Business was busy from the start at Gluten Free Miracles, which opened about a year ago.
"When we opened we were like, 'We'll do a soft opening so we can get used to dealing with the public,'" Walsh said. "There was never a soft opening."
Walsh credits the successful start to finding her gluten-free customers at the place many of them visit when diagnosed: the doctor's office.
"While I was training employees," Walsh said, "I had a lady who went to doctors' offices with stuff we made. That was our way of marketing."
Walsh and her team brought samples and flyers, and social media did the rest.
For Walsh, it just made sense to go to the source and educate the doctors who were diagnosing dietary problems and allergies.
Gluten Free Miracles is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. In addition to serving gluten-free foods, Gluten Free Miracles accommodates other food allergies and dietary preferences: Vegan day is Wednesday; Paleo days are Tuesday and Saturday.
Business has been good the first year, and the bakery has even expanded. Customers travel from Cincinnati, Nashville and Paducah to buy bulk orders. Gluten Free Miracles also ships nationwide. The business has started working with the University of Kentucky to provide gluten-free items for the dining halls.
Any advice for new business owners?
"Read, read, read," she said. "Then, go meet with the small-business development center."
Shirie Hawkins, the director of Bluegrass Small Business Development Center at 330 East Main Street, Suite 210, thought a gluten-free restaurant was a great niche for Walsh's business because Lexington didn't have one. Walsh already had a great following on her blog about the gluten-free diet, Hawkins said.
"She knew her customer," Hawkins said.
Center staff walked Walsh through setting up her business and financial plans.
"They helped me in ways you cannot imagine," Walsh said.