C.H. Newspaper Talks with Sweet Ali’s Bakery Owner Ali Graeme
The following article appeared in the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Patch. You can read the article in its entirety at Sweet Ali’s Brings Gluten-Free Treats to Hinsdale.
Sweet Ali’s Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale may be a thriving business now, but it owes its start to a young boy.
Five years ago, Ali Graeme’s son was diagnosed with food allergies. Eventually, Graeme learned that her son had celiac disease, which meant that he was allergic to gluten. Once Graeme’s son had been diagnosed, she realized that the health problems she herself had been struggling with could also be attributed to the allergy.
“I had celiac [disease] and was misdiagnosed for all those years,” Graeme said.
Because gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats, many foods are off limits to those suffering from celiac disease, including most bread and other baked goods. When Graeme began adjusting her family’s diet, she had a hard time finding treats for her kids, and didn’t enjoy many store-bought gluten-free desserts.
“I realized that there weren’t many good [tasting] foods that were gluten-free that were on the sweet side,” she said.
In an effort to provide her family with better-tasting foods, Graeme, who previously worked in finance, began experimenting with recipes at home. Eventually, she had enough positive feedback to begin selling her products wholesale. Then, in April 2010, she opened Sweet Ali’s in downtown Hinsdale.
“Baking has always been a hobby,” Graeme said.
Because she has a background in science, Graeme enjoyed the experience of testing and creating recipes: “It’s more of an experiment.”
Owning Sweet Ali’s has allowed Graeme to meet others who have faced health problems just like those of Graeme and her son.
“[I enjoy] working with all the customers,” she said. “Having a gluten allergy, it’s nice hearing similar stories and similar challenges. It puts a smile on my face; the customers are always so appreciative of our efforts here.”
Because she suffers from a gluten allergy, Graeme is more understanding of the needs of others with celiac disease than most bakers or chefs.
“Most people don’t understand,” she said. “Celiac can be very sensitive, so you have to make sure there’s not cross-contamination.”
Even if meals or baked goods are prepared with gluten-free ingredients, they can become contaminated with gluten and make celiac sufferers sick. Everything made at Sweet Ali’s is gluten-free, so the danger of cross contamination is nonexistent.
The products at Sweet Ali’s range from cakes, to hamburger buns, to frozen pizzas. Graeme says that her popular treats include the red velvet cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and cinnamon buns. Graeme is also baking gluten-free lamb cakes for Easter, and Sweet Ali’s has recently started selling cake pops.
In addition to the bakery goods sold at Sweet Ali’s, customers can purchase foods to cook at home. Frozen, gluten-free cookie dough is for sale, as are gluten-free cake mixes and flour so customers can experiment with their own recipes.
“There aren’t a lot of good flour blends out there, so I developed my own,” Graeme said.
And now that Sweet Ali’s is a success, what does its original customer think? Graeme’s son, who is 17, likes the chocolate chip cookies.