As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of this global media platform & Chief Encouragement Officer of our affiliated pro bono social impact enterprise; GoodWorks 360°, I was delighted to have the opportunity to get better acquainted with Elizabeth Durham, Founder of Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics. a gluten and dairy-free Bakery & Cafe catering to the food allergy community. Their Mission lies in their belief that the customer deserves the utmost in service and customer care. They will ensure each customer receives the highest quality organic products that are free from listed allergens.
Philanthropy is a top priority – in giving we truly receive and in that spirit we give back to the community.
We’d like to hear about your personal/professional journey before opening Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics.
I was a stay at home Mom for 14 years when I created my first recipes for Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics. I’ve loved creating in the kitchen since I was young. There’s some kind of magic happening, especially when you get your hands on fresh ingredients. I began volunteering at Sweetwater Organic Farm in 2009 – oh man, the smell of fresh soil, clean land, and beautiful produce. When our family grew by two more feet it was time for me to step back from volunteering and start something of my own. I opened Lettuce Heads Organic Produce Co-op to provide fresh, organic produce to my local community. I was able to feed our family of seven in what was considered a food desert at the time. It was a good 20-minute drive to get fresh produce. This was something I was passionate about so I partnered with the American Heart Association to bring awareness to the issue in hopes of more funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Here’s the video ⤵︎
Unfortunately, the funding was denied. The co-op opened the door to sharing my recipes through in-person cooking classes. I connected with a functional medicine doctor to share my knowledge of healthy cooking and feeding a large family on a budget. This quickly led to more classes at a local health food store. Through these classes, I was able to connect with people and hear their struggles. I heard over and over how delicious everything was and that they couldn’t believe it was healthy. It looked easy to make however many of my guests wanted me to come to their kitchen to cook or bake for them. I always held on to that request.
Tell us about Sweet Elizabeth’s and the inspiration behind it.
The inspiration behind Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics came from a simple request of my 9-year-old daughter for her birthday. She requested a coffee cake, I didn’t even know she knew what a coffee cake was. I tried persuading her onto something I knew I would be successful at making, since going gluten and dairy-free, baking was a whole new ballgame. My first year of my diet change (I have celiac disease) I was reluctant to bake at all, it was challenging to find the right combination of ingredients to create the desired texture and taste without a bad aftertaste which many gluten-free foods have. When I bake, I also think about the nutritional value and how I can pack as much nutrition into something that’s supposed to be “cake”. Sophia was adamant about her birthday request for a coffee cake so I obliged under one condition, no matter how it turned out it still needed to be eaten. I’ll never forget the feel of that hot pan coming through the oven mitt, the comforting aroma of sweet apples and spicy cinnamon, and the gorgeous Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake I had just created. This coffee cake was so complex in flavor with just the right texture and only a few nutritious ingredients.
When did you launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?
January 2, 2017, was the beginning of Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics. I quickly developed six of our now seven baking mixes, I now have 2 new mixes waiting for their debut. I started making and packaging the mixes out of our walk-in closet turned very tiny bakery. Once I had my equipment and packaging ready, I went back to Sweetwater Organic Farm but this time as a vendor at their Sunday Market. I added another weekly Farmer’s Market in the area which kept me busy. Soon after I started at the farmer’s markets, my husband was offered a job we couldn’t pass up, however, it would take us across the country to Colorado. We landed in Woodland Park, CO in June 2017. I set up a booth at the local farmer’s market which was a huge change from the flatlands of Florida. My booth looked right out at Pikes Peak, WOWZER!
I started looking for a commercial kitchen since our new home didn’t provide the space needed. I was introduced to a brilliant businesswoman who was also looking for a space to produce and wholesale her product. What we found was a kitchen with a small restaurant in the back and an office space upfront. When the owners of the building decided to close their business they offered the entire building to us. We had a decision to make, either take advantage of this opportunity that was handed to us or not. We knew if we were going to take over the building, we would put the restaurant and office to good use. So, in January of 2018, I opened my bakery doors in what was a 300 square foot office turned into the coziest, welcoming haven for my guests to be loved on. There’s been A LOT of challenges since that opening day.
What’s unique about your business?
My bakery is here to disrupt the norm, we use high-quality, organic ingredients and are free from the Top 8 Allergens, except for coconut, we’re also vegan for our health, the animals and the planet. When I started Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics, I was on a quest to provide a healthier version of baked goods without losing the taste and texture in the process. I wanted people who aren’t free from anything to not know the difference.
When it comes to our staff, it’s important to me to provide a safe place where they are seen for who they are. I provide a nurturing and supportive culture where each person is given a role where they can learn, grow, and be part of something bigger than themselves.
There’s a different energy in our staff which is shared with our guests. Our staff “gets it”. They either have food allergies, intolerances, autoimmune disease, or choose a healthier lifestyle. They can understand and empathize with our guests, this also helps to ensure our guests are treated with the love and kindness they should be shown. My team is here to see our guests for who they are and to treat them like they are the most important person in our world at that moment. We’ve created a job training program for people with special needs, it’s important to do our part to be inclusive and provide a safe work environment. I’m excited to see this area of my business grow.
Any noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments along the way?
My 1st ‘Ah-ha” moment came when I first pulled my daughter’s coffee cake birthday request out of the oven. Finally, I thought to myself, a CAKE which was free from top allergens and a much healthier version. I couldn’t wait to share the recipe at my cooking classes. That’s when the lightbulb went off, nobody wants your recipe Elizabeth, they just want you to make it for them. Well okay then, I could do half the work by making the baking mixes. And with those very simple yet life-altering thoughts, everything I had been doing thus far had led up to that moment and Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics was born.
How would you describe your typical day?
A typical day for me…this question would’ve had a very different answer only a few short months ago. Pre-pandemic I was running on an empty tank. I was the CEO of two bakeries that were almost a country apart. I was traveling between our original location in Colorado Springs, CO, and our new location in Lutz, FL. Our family loved Colorado and the incredible community we had built in those 2 years. However, Scott and I needed to do what was right for our kids which was moving back to Florida so they could be close to family and enjoy the activities they missed. I was going 100 mph, highly stressed, lacking sleep, overwhelmed, and trying to juggle it all.
Covid-19 hit and everything shut down – both of our businesses came to a screeching halt. Almost immediately, the money was gone and so was our store in Colorado Springs that I had poured every ounce of myself and our money into.
It was devastating but I knew it was going to give me the opportunity to learn a whole lot in a short amount of time. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, hard work, shed many tears, learning, and growth. At the beginning of the shutdown, I went from working 7 days a week, very long exhausting hours to working one day a week at our bakery in Lutz, FL. Since March, I have created the Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics Prototype, everything a person would need to create their own Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics Franchise. I created the systems and organization we were lacking. I knew when the shutdown happened that if I didn’t make massive changes to go along with the change, we would be out of business quickly.
I’m learning food photography, social media, website, blogging, video teaching, and more so that I can build an online brand to sell our baking mixes. A typical day now is working at the bakery four days a week doing the baking, cooking, cleaning, waiting on customers, frosting cakes, and whatever else that needs to be done. Two days of the week are spent working on building our online presence as well as the afternoons after closing the bakery. I now take Sundays off to be with my family which is much needed.
As an entrepreneur, things are always changing and you either adapt to the new way and grow or you don’t. Luckily, I don’t mind change.
What about your impact on the community?
My goal is to create a sense of community within our business whether that be at our store or purchasing online.
Our customers have always been underserved. It is difficult for people with food allergies, intolerances, autoimmune disease, and dietary needs or wants to be served in the safest way at most restaurants. It’s also difficult to find products that are healthier, more like what people who care about what they put in their bodies would make at home. My goal is to create a sense of community within our business whether that be at our store or purchasing online. Through videos, sharing my story, social media, or blogposts I believe there can be a real community built. We all crave authentic connection and I want to be a presence to foster it. We’ve been fortunate to connect with a school to bring their students in for hands-on job training. I look forward to more opportunities to be a part of something bigger than myself. I don’t know in what way it will show itself but I very much want to be part of young people’s lives through mentoring, education, and support.
What’s the next big thing/challenge for Sweet Elizabeth’s?
With the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought, I’m working diligently to keep my eye on what truly matters and that’s the safety of my customers and family. It’s also to provide a top-notch, delicious product people can enjoy. Of course, some days are easier than others. I often say all I need to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward. The things I’m currently working on are our new packaging, new website, organic & gluten-free certification, building a brand, food photography, blogging, video teaching, recipes, growing our online presence, and running our brick & mortar in Lutz, FL. Wow, I’m already tired!
As an entrepreneur what’s non-negotiable?
How can our readers learn more about and support Sweet Elizabeth’s Organics?
You can find our website at Sweet Elizabeth Organics where we offer our full line of organic, gluten-free, allergy-friendly & vegan baking mixes. If you’re in the Lutz, FL area, we would love for you to stop by our store. Also, follow along on Facebook or Instagram @SweetElizabethsOrganics
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little about me, our mixes, and bakery. Much love and happy baking!