Hellertown woman launches nut-free bakery after facing her own allergy struggles
After being diagnosed with a severe nut allergy, Jessica Dean was the kid on the sidelines at birthday parties, refusing a piece of cake as other revelers dove in.
As an adult, she had to be extra careful in the workplace if a home-cooked food was brought in by a colleague, as she was unsure of the ingredients inside. At a college graduation party, unknown pieces of ground cashews in a meal landed Dean unexpectedly in the ER.
If Dean eats part of a peanut or nut, she will experience symptoms that begin with a scratchy feeling in her throat before quickly escalating to a crunch, then difficulty breathing. In some cases, this can be life threatening. Dean has to wear an epinephrine auto-injector, also known as an PPE pen, to inject drugs used to treat allergic emergencies.
“Even the dust from a nut can send me to the hospital,” Dean told lehighvalleylive.com.
These and other fears led Dean to start taking extra precautions. She found herself cooking her own allergy-friendly treats in the kitchen of her home in Hellertown. Now, she’s turning those baked creations into a full-fledged business aimed at helping people with nut allergies.
On December 31, Dean launched “Benny Dean’s Bakery,” a state-licensed business, in the kitchen of his home in Hellertown. The company name is derived from a combination of her maiden (Benowitz) and married (Dean) names. The bakery is delivered only and everything is made to order.
Dean said she especially wanted to give customers the same peace of mind.
“Being able to have my cake and eat it this worry-free is hard to describe,” Dean said. “I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to eating foods that I don’t know, so having no anxiety is amazing.”
You won’t find peanuts, peanut butter, or peanut oil in Dean’s kitchen. It’s completely, 100% nut-free, she says.
Too often, people can walk into a bakery and see signs stating phrases like “may contain,” “facility shared with,” or “processed with” nuts. The hunt can be exhausting for a simple cookie or cupcake.
“Finding a nut-free cake for my son’s birthday was next to impossible,” Dean said of his 4-year-old.
“I think people don’t go the extra mile to do that because finding ingredients becomes more difficult and expensive,” she added. “Also, if you don’t know what to look for, you can easily miss something. Labels are constantly changing, so this is something you need to constantly check. »
For customers who miss the taste of peanut butter, Dean said she could substitute the filling with a soy-based substitute.
Dean had more time to experiment with various flavors during the March 2020 shutdown. She initially started baking as a side hustle when her full-time hours were temporarily reduced at the ceramics-based business. in Allentown where she worked.
The bakery’s menu includes basic, deluxe, or custom cupcakes in flavors such as chocolate and vanilla for the base; poppy seeds with lemon, salted caramel and Oreo cookie for luxury; and specialty concoctions for custom. She makes “giant” homemade cookies in chocolate chip, s’more, snickerdoodle and red velvet flavors. There are also chocolate-dipped pretzels and fudge-drizzled or sprinkled Oreo cookies.
So far, Dean said customers seem to be asking the most for the chocolate Oreo chunky cookies and the snickerdoodle cupcakes. She also plans to add seasonal flavors and holiday-decorated items to the menu, such as sprinkled, clover-inspired green treats for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.
Prices range from around $18 to $24 for a dozen baked goods. Everything is sold by the dozen except for the jumbo cookies which are sold four for $16. Dean does not offer larger cakes, but provides smaller baked goods for special occasions and weddings upon request only and with proper advance notice.
Dean is currently juggling his full-time job and the bakery. Prior to joining the workforce, Dean graduated from Southern Lehigh High School and earned an Associate of Commerce degree from Lehigh Carbon Community College in North Whitehall. She also held a management position at a self-storage facility.
Dean plans to take his treats on the road soon.
She is already lined up as a seller at the Quakertown Farmer’s Market‘s Spring Craft Fair on April 2. She’s hosting a “pop-up shop” at Drip the Flavor Lab in Hellertown on March 17, featuring St. Patrick’s Day-inspired treats.
Dean is also exploring other local farmers markets and festivals to join. She enjoys one-on-one interaction with clients.
“I’m always looking for feedback on favorite flavors and what people would like to see that I’m not currently offering,” she said.
When asked if she plans to expand the bakery’s menu, Dean said she is currently focusing on the current line of treats.
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Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be contacted at [email protected].