Women-Owned Small Business Entrepreneur Series // Kathlena, The Allergy Chef of Free and Friendly Foods

This week we are featuring Kathlena from Free and Friendly Foods.  Kathlena and I connected online and I was able to meet her in person last Fall at a food allergy expo event locally. 
Kathlena is really passionate about what she does and you can tell she is genuine and has a big heart.  When we met her at the food allergy expo she came around from behind her booth and kneeled down to speak with both my daughter and her friend at their height and spoke with them so kindly and sweetly.  Kathlena lives a short distance from me and we plan on making a trip up for some goodies soon!
Be sure to visit Free and Friendly Foods  online and connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Kathlena, The Allergy Chef. I have over 200 food allergies and intolerances, and can’t drink most water. A few years ago my condition had become so severe I was given 30 days to live. After surviving that, our family decided to get busy helping people while I still could. We launched a bakery, blog, published cookbooks, did local and national outreach, and more. Everything that our business does is to serve the food allergy and special diet community. We’re on a mission to change the world, one bite at a time.

What does your business do?
Free and Friendly Foods is a bakery, publishes cookbooks, runs a recipe blog, and does everything that it can to spread education and awareness about food allergies and special diets. We also help people with custom menu planning and recipes, and also have a classroom education program in the local schools.

Who is your target audience or market?
We primarily target people living with food allergies or a special diet. However, our bakery has found success with people that are conscious about the quality of the food they eat. Food allergies and special diets are not bound by gender, age, ethnicity, or geolocation, so we do our best to serve everyone that’s in need.

What year did you start your business?
We incorporated in 2016, and launched our bakery and cookbooks.

What were you doing before starting your business?
Both my partner and I have backgrounds in the tech industry. I did web development, graphic design, photography, video, and built custom PCs along with all other things digital. My partner is an audio engineer and also does video and tech installations. We have found great use of these skills in our current business, and he still works in his primary industries as well.

Where is your business located? Do you have a dedicated workspace?
Free and Friendly Foods is located in San Bruno, California. We area about 15 miles south of San Francisco. Our bakery is operated out of our residential space under our Class B Cottage License. This means we can sell to retail, wholesale, and individuals. We opted for this route as we have full control over the space (nothing shared with allergens like in a shared commercial space) and we use dedicated equipment. Our goal is to have a full facility in the future.

What would you say your biggest success has been? What was the key action that led to this success?
Our bakery has done very well at the Vegan Street Fair, an annual food show in Los Angeles. The key action that has mad this happen has been the presentation and quality of our cupcakes. When we first launched our bakery, I wanted to make sure that people with food allergies had the best look and taste possible, as most allergy friendly foods come up short in these departments.

What would you say your biggest failure has been?
Our Kit Cards. It was a product that we created when we first launched our business and we had a lot of excitement from friends of ours that worked at a very large national grocer. We invested a lot of time and money into creating the cards that people simply weren’t interested in. We now give them away for free at shows.

What did you learn from this failure and how have you changed things to prevent this from happening again?
We’ve learned to not allow external forces push us to make rushed decisions. Had we done some market testing, we would have learned that the product would have worked well as a digital item (rather than printed) and could have save a lot of money. To prevent this from happening, we take our time with new products that are in development, and we make sure it’s something the market not only needs, but wants.

What has been your biggest challenge as a small business owner?
By far, funding has been our biggest challenge. However, as our company has gotten older, we’ve come to a place where we’re OK with that. While not having investors comes with its own set of struggles, it also comes with freedom. Given my health condition, we are content to continue to self-fund this adventure for the time being.

Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up? If so, why?
Almost every day we’re ready to give up. Blogging and developing resources for the most part is a thankless job. Most people want to consume the content free of charge. Since our audience isn’t yet humungous, revenue from advertising is non-existent. Keeping this business going has taken a lot of sacrifice on our part, and until we start to break even, I’m sure we’re going to still have days where we know it would be easier to quit.

What do you love MOST about being an entrepreneur?
I love the flexible hours the most. Being a chronically ill person isn’t easy, so on days where extra rest is needed, it isn’t a problem.

What do you love LEAST about being an entrepreneur?
The lack of support staff has been the thing I love least about being an entrepreneur. I’m sure that when our company is much larger this will change. Until then, I’m generally the driving force behind getting tasks completed which can be quite stressful.

How have you funded your business? How long has it taken you to see a profit?
We took out a small loan in conjunction with self funding to get our business started. We have just started year 3, and have yet to see a profit.

Did you always see yourself owning a business? If so, is this the business that you thought you would be owning? If not, what did you think you’d be doing?
I’ve always been an overachiever. At age 8 I sat myself down and planned out my entire future. Interestingly, nothing has truly gone to plan, yet at the same time, the plan has been fulfilled in the funniest ways. For example, part of the plan was to become a child advocate lawyer since I grew up in an abusive home. Although I didn’t go to law school, I find that I advocate for children almost daily— kids with food allergies and special diets. 8 year old me did include owning a business late in life after doing all the other things on the list, so yes, I’ve always seen myself owning a business.

Where do you see your business in the next 3 to 5 years?
In the next three to five years I see Free and Friendly Foods in phase 2 or 3 of our business plan. The ultimate goal is to create a food empire for people with food allergies and special diets. We’ll also have the means to travel around the country doing events to help people with their daily food struggles.

What advice would you give to other women that are interested in starting their own business?
There are several things I’d share with other women wanting to start a business. First, make sure it’s something you’re super passionate about. Starting a business means long, unpaid, hours. Second, make sure there’s a need and/or market for your business. Third, have a plan to pay for the startup costs. Finally, make sure you’re on top of your website and social media.

What is one program, tool or app that you can’t live without for your business? (If you have more than one, please feel free to share more!)
Photoshop and Text Edit are the two apps that I simply can’t live without.

What does your day to day in your business look like?
Here at Free and Friendly Foods, no two days are the same, which is good for me, as I get bored easily from repetitive tasks. Overall, each day includes research and development, bakery tasks, social media, and some light administrative work. There’s also photography, design, layout, and naps.

As a business owner it can often be hard to find time for ourselves. What are your favorite hobbies and what do you like to do when you are not working?
I’d have to say that LEGO is the big hobby in our house. I also find that watching documentaries is quite enjoyable.

Thank you so much to Kathlena for taking the time to share her story and more about her business with us.  Remember to check out her website and also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Are you a small business owner?  Do you have a story to share?  Help others discover, learn, and support your business too!  Contact Katie at: kate (at) busybeekate.com for details or through our contact page.
Be sure to stop back next week for another interview and don’t forget to check out our past interviews here.

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