Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Thai.
Jennifer, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My husband and I set up our tent on a rainy day in November 2 years ago and sold our first pack of Super Muffins at the Memorial Villages Farmers Market. Our story really began 2 years before that day, when we found out our little girl, Aurora was allergic to eggs and later peanuts. It was scary enough being first-time parents but navigating food allergies was daunting. Her first birthday was around the corner and I called every bakery and not a single one could guarantee that they wouldn’t cross contaminate her cake with an allergen or could answer my questions on whether their ingredients were manufactured in clean, safe facilities.
Even though my idea of baking usually came from a box, I couldn’t imagine her first birthday without a cake so I bought a Kitchen Aid mixer and started my journey of making allergy-friendly baked goodies. Like many parents, I wanted Aurora to eat better so over the next two years, through lots of trial and error, I invented muffins that are dairy, egg, soy, peanut and tree nut free and made completely without any added sugar. I sweetened the muffins only with whole fruits and vegetables and we called them Super Muffins. Early 2015, I decided it was time to make the leap from Corporate America to Start Up life so I left my finance job in oil & gas to build the Awesome Bites Co., Houston’s first allergy friendly, health-conscious bakery.
That summer I apprenticed at Slow Dough Bake Shop in the wee hours of the morning to learn how to bake commercially and spent my days working with my graphic artist friend to design our brand and researching and quality checking ingredients.
Late 2016, we won $10k through the City of Houston & Capital One’s Liftoff Houston Business Plan competition and NextSeed’s NextUp business pitch competition. Since then, we’ve added a few gluten-free versions of the Super Muffins, created top 8 allergen free brownies, blondies and cookie cakes made without refined sugars and high in protein and fibers from organic black beans and chickpeas, artisan small batch gluten free, nut free, refined sugar free granola and even creamy plant-based milk made from coconut and flax seeds. When we open our storefront in the Fall, we’ll be adding allergy friendly, refined sugar-free ice cream to the mix. All allergy friendly, health conscious, delicious, and made from scratch.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I don’t think there’s a road to a startup that is smooth. I came from a corporate environment that had a community and departments for HR, legal, accounting, IT, supply chain, etc to becoming a mompreneur to a cutie with food allergies and a food startup. It was a big change and every part of building the Awesome Bites Co. came with challenges.
Developing our one-of-a-kind muffins was difficult; my poor husband literally ate 100’s of so-so muffins. It’s hard to bake without eggs, butter, sugar and sometimes without flour and to complicate matters even further… using nontraditional, yet healthier ingredients like sweet potato, yellow squash and zucchini. Plus, it had to taste good, like stop-a-crying-toddler delicious. We also needed to ensure our ingredients were safe – not manufactured, processed or packaged along with food allergens – along with sourcing high-quality ingredients that sometimes cost 500% more than ones found in traditional baked goods was a bit of a procurement nightmare.
These issues only became more problematic when we needed to grow the business. We started baking from my home, but demand in the farmers market outgrew what I could make in my kitchen. It was difficult to find a commercial kitchen to rent that we could control cross contamination issues. Even now, 2.5 years from the day we started selling our Super Muffins when we’re finally building our storefront, we’re still faced with educating people about the importance of eating safer and better and making our baked goodies more accessible to everyone.
Please tell us about Awesome Bites Co.
Awesome Bites Co. is Houston’s only allergy friendly and health conscious vegan bakery and soon to be ice cream shop. We believe that we all deserve food made with better ingredients that are safe to share with others, whether you have food allergies or not. Our motto is “eat better, share more, be awesome.”
So, what makes us “awesome”? We push the boundaries of what we know about baked goodies. Turning fruits and vegetables into fluffy, delicious, breakfast treats. Making them without eggs, butter, or sugar so more people can enjoy them.
We are known for our Super Muffins, which are dairy, egg, soy, peanut and tree nut free and we even have some gluten-free options. Even wilder, they have no added sugar – not even honey, agave or stevia; instead, there’s a FULL SERVING of FRUIT/VEGGIES in every 4-pack of mini muffins. We also make top 8 allergens free, high fiber and high protein brownies and blondies that are made with pounds of beans. Our baked goodies are also vegan, non-GMO, made without preservatives or artificial ingredients and have zero cholesterol.
It’s an indescribable feeling to help someone enjoy something they normally wouldn’t have been able to eat, but even more rewarding is creating a yummy treat that brings people together. Food should be about inclusion, even more so when you can’t eat certain ingredients. Even though 1 out of 13 kids has food allergies today, most of our fans don’t have food allergies. They love our baked goodies because they’re healthier and just taste great.
When a mom shows up at a birthday party with the same Super Muffin for every kid, whether they have food allergies or not, that mom gets that indescribable feeling I get and that child that has food allergies feels included.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Every Sunday, my grandpa would make a cup of coffee for him and one for me (though mine was mostly milk) and we’d share a Chinese churro, while he read the newspaper and I’d “read” the comics.
- Super Muffins (pack of 4 mini muffins) $6.50
- GF Beanie Brownies and Chocolate Chip Blondie Chick $3.50/ bar
- Gluten-Free Vegan Cookie Cake $30 (top 8 allergen free)
- Artisan GF Granola $9/bag
- Address: 9a-1p at Memorial Villages Farmers Market
10840 Beinhorn Rd, Houston, TX 77024
- Website: www.awesomebitesco.com
- Instagram: @awesomebitesco
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/awesomebitesco
- Twitter: @awesomebitesco