Hype Food Co. is a top allergen-free fast casual restaurant that opened this Spring in Toronto, Ontario, the brainchild of one of Food Allergy Canada’s community advocates Pauline Osena and her husband, Matt Gauvin. The restaurant was inspired by their children, two of whom have food allergies.
Their first born was only six-months old when first diagnosed with a dairy allergy; he later developed allergies to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat. Their four-year old daughter has no allergies and their two-year old son is allergic to eggs, peanuts and fish.
Having no prior experience with food allergies, learning to prepare foods without certain allergens created a huge learning curve and life-style change for Pauline and Matt, self-described “foodies”.
“I had to re-teach myself how to cook and in doing that it became a passion because I love to eat. So, I started a blog, HypeFoodie, because creating allergy-friendly recipes was something I thought other people would want to learn about”, Pauline explained. She had been writing a monthly column for the Huffington Post, called the Allergy Friendly Recipe Makeover at the time. Around the same time Pauline started her blog, she also started an online support group which has grown to almost 1,000 Toronto parents of children with food allergies, who welcomed the opportunity to connect. She recognized a need for an allergy-friendly restaurant like Hype Food Co. where ingredients are fully disclosed so that customers could make informed choices.
“We wanted our restaurant to be not necessarily table service, or some place that people only go to for special occasions. We wanted the place to be a welcoming place for families, where there is friendly service, a lot of choice and a fun environment for kids. That is why we built a restaurant that is family-friendly with activities for kids to enjoy and has counter-service with fully customizable meals.”
Pauline and Matt strive to accommodate customers with any dietary need and want people to feel welcome. “In terms of the menu, I was trying to think of ways to accommodate as many people as possible, and the best way that I could think of was to allow people to choose their own ingredients. There are a lot of places that currently do that, but they may not have processes in place to prevent cross-contamination,” Pauline explained.
Hype Food Co. has a full lunch and dinner menu and for those with a sweet tooth there is a selection of cupcakes, donuts, and cookies. It was important for Pauline and Matt to be able to offer delicious treats, as they knew that many are off-limits, due to common allergenic ingredients.
“Part of the thinking for our bakery was to provide treats for people who don’t have food allergies but have somebody with food allergies attending their party and aren’t sure how to serve them. We wanted to make it easier for people to accommodate for those with food allergies.”
The response so far to Hype Food Co. has been overwhelmingly positive, with not one single day passing without somebody thanking Pauline for providing allergy-friendly options. Pauline said how nice it is to be a part of a big milestone where it is the first time a parent can allow their child to eat out. “I always feel humbled by it because this was really just something I was passionate about and I am really thankful that the community is embracing it as much as I hoped they would. It is comforting to know that there’s a greater community of families with food allergies.”
For parents with a child who has been newly diagnosed with a food allergy, Pauline’s biggest piece of advice for beginning to navigate a new way of cooking is to not be afraid to experiment with new recipes and flavours.
“I did a lot of experimenting in the beginning, and there were definitely a lot of items that I needed to throw away because they didn’t taste quite right. But at the end of the day I rediscovered my love for food and I was able to share that with my children”.
Amazing work Pauline and Matt! Thank you for all you are doing to make eating out a pleasurable experience for families with food allergies.