|Screenshot from http://www.brandonsbestallergenfree.com/the-sweet-shop/?v=757e5b5109ed|
I am not sure when I first heard about Mandy's Pizza. It was years ago! Mandy's is an award winning pizzeria located in Pittsburgh, PA. Steve Negri is the owner. I remember reading that Steve's son had food allergies and that they sold allergy friendly pizza dough. In fact, either Steve or the Mandy's website explained that his son Brandon was the inventor of the pizza dough! I always thought that was so innovative and how wonderful that a pizza place had something for those with food allergies. It was SO long ago, when I first heard about Mandy's there was no such thing as allergy friendly food at restaurants; it was something that just didn't happen and I knew Mandy's Pizza was special.
Years went by, and then a few months ago I learned that Brandon--now in high school!--has his own website and business! I was blown away. As a high school teacher and mom of two teenagers, I absolutely love hearing about entrepreneurial, innovative young people. The world really is their oyster, and Brandon clearly has ambition and aims to go places! I am very glad Brandon agreed to do a Q & A with Food Allergy Buzz to share more of his story and tell us all about his business, Brandon's Best Allergen-Free Treats.
I also had a chance to try some vanilla glazed donuts which Brandon kindly sent along with a Pittsburgh Steelers sign! It's an inside joke between us, as I live in Patriots' territory, and this was before the Superbowl when we didn't know which team was going to advance then! My sons and I enjoyed the donuts; they were super! We especially liked the glaze, nice and sweet with the yummy cakey donuts! The donuts are top 8 allergen free and gluten-free, as are most of Brandon’s products. Specific ingredient information is on his website. Brandon’s products include cookies, donuts, muffins and pizza dough.
Side note: on top of managing multiple food allergies, creating recipes, starting his own business, Brandon still is a full-time high school student and serious hockey player! I don't know how he does it all!!
*I normally share photos of the foods we try but I must apologize as my computer has been misbehaving and I lost some recent photos, as well as Firefox for some reason. I think my computer may be on its last leg.*
FAB: Please tell us about your connection to food allergies.
Brandon: I have had bad food allergies since I was a baby. My mom found out when I was 3 and I put a peanut in my mouth. She pulled it out and my spit went on my cheek and then it started to turn red.
FAB: Tell us a little about you manage your allergies.
Brandon: Managing food allergies isn't that hard since my mom taught me how to read labels, and to ask before I eat. When I went to school my mom packed my lunch but my parents would not let me sit at the no peanuts table. I asked Dad and he said that if I sat at that table I would always be afraid to be on my own so sit with your friends but not around the one eating peanut butter that day.
FAB:Tell us about how you first began to cook and old were you then?
Brandon: I was 9 years old when I started baking because my Dad would bring pizza home to eat but i could not even touch his pizza. I told him that i wanted him to make me a pizza and he said that he didn't know how. I told my Dad that I would make it and he said ok. It took me 6 months to make a pizza that tasted really good.
When I was 11, I started to work on buns because I could never have a hamburger with a bun. The only bun at whole foods was really nasty and it would fall apart.
I then started to work on desserts because the cookies that we would see were only gluten free and I am allergic to eggs and corn and they always had that in them.
FAB: How did you begin to develop recipes? How did you come up with recipes?
Brandon: I would look on the internet at pictures and would make them because they looked good. I then had to look on the internet for egg replacements. I tried bananas but they made my cookies all taste like banana. I tried applesauce but that made my stomach upset. Dad says that apples will make babies poop. I just tried all kinds of different ways until I liked how they tasted and looked.
FAB: How long did it take you?
Brandon: Everything I have made took me a very long time. My donuts took me 3 years to make until my Dad thought that they tasted like a real donut. I didn't know because I had never tasted a real donut.
Once I figured how to replace stuff like eggs it was easy to make other foods allergen free but not taste allergen free.
FAB: I think I remember visiting your Dad's website a few years back and it looks different today. Now there is Brandon's Best Allergen-free Treats, a separate website! How did that happen? What made you decide to take the plunge?
Brandon: It was my Dad that told me that I should have my own website. I don't know anything about how to make a website but Dad does and he did it for me. He told me that people get confused when they think that Mandy's pizza sells donuts but it is really me that does that stuff. I helped Dad pick out what the website will look like but he did all of the work.
FAB: Have you gotten to chat with any of your customers? What kind of feedback are you receiving?
Brandon: Dad gets to more than me because he is at the pizza shop. But when I do the allergen free donuts with Santa, the kids, and parents all come up to thank me for what I do. I think that it is cool because it was hard for me when I was their age and there weren't any good donuts or cookies.
FAB: What are your plans for the future?
Brandon: Dad and I talked about that the other night and I am going to start selling my cookie dough in jars. Dad already helps me a lot but it would be a lot more work to make all of these cookies. It will be easier to put the dough in jars and people can make cookies when they want to.
FAB: What advice do you have for other young people with food allergies?
Brandon: I went to a lunch today with a guy who sells real estate and he said that life gave me food allergies and I made cookies. Parents need to make kids not so scared about food allergies because it is not that bad if you try to understand.
FAB: Is there anything else you'd like to share with Food Allergy Buzz readers?
Brandon: Make food allergies easy for kids but people whose kids don't have food allergies need to live like us for one month, and then they will see how hard it is to worry about getting sick or not fitting in when there is a party.