Allergy safe restaurant coming to Toronto

Hype Food Co., opening soon at Gerrard and Jones, will serve a menu free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, fish, soy and sesame


For folks with severe food allergies, just going out to eat with friends or family can pose a massive logistical challenge — unless, of course, you’re eating at Hype Food Co. The soon-to-open fast-casual eatery (1060 Gerrard East, at Jones) will serve a menu of bowls and baked goods entirely free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, fish, soy and sesame — “top allergens” which represent 90 per cent of food-based allergies.

The spot, which is set to open sometime in the next few weeks, is the brainchild of Hype Foodie blogger Pauline Osena. We asked her about her plans for the space.

What prompted you to start Hype Food Co.?

I’m a mother of three children, and two of them have multiple food allergies. My eldest son is allergic to peanuts, dairy, eggs, tree nuts and chicken, and my youngest son is allergic to peanuts, eggs and fish. My husband and I don’t have food allergies, so it was all new to us. I had to teach myself to cook and relearn how to eat well. As we got older, it got more challenging to bring our son to a restaurant with his own packed lunch. 

I started my own website, Hype Foodie, and I was sharing my allergy-free recipes. I wrote for the Huffington Post a little bit, doing the “allergy friendly recipe makeover” — taking something like, say, a cheesecake and coming up with a recipe free from top allergens. I think opening a restaurant was just a natural progression of things. 

Another big push was that one of our go-to restaurants was McDonalds. I actually used to work for their head office. They had dedicated fryers in their restaurants, and we were able to get my son fries there. Then they changed their policy, and started putting up posters saying, “if you have food allergies, we don’t make accommodations.” I guess that kind of got the idea rolling in my head that something needed to be done, and instead of waiting for someone else to do it, we would be the ones.

What can people expect from the menu at Hype Food Co.?

On the bowls side, there’s going to be good, wholesome ingredients. You’ll be able to pick your base. We’ll have some rice, some gluten-free pastas, some zucchini noodles and salad. Then you can pick your vegetables, which will be exactly what they’ll be – not marinated or canned with any type of ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Then we’ll have meat and chicken – so it’s not going to be a vegan restaurant, but there will be plant based options. All the sauces will be made in house. We’ll have things like coconut curry, a chimichurri. 

On the bakery side, we’re going to be using gluten-free flours. We’ll have cupcakes, cakes, biscuits and cookies, everything you would see in a regular bakery, but free from top allergens. Instead of dairy, we’ll be using palm shortening. We’ll have soft serve ice cream. People familiar with Disney World know about the Dole Whips – we’ll be doing those, starting with pineapple and strawberry. Our chocolate sauce and caramel sauce, which is based off of coconut, will be made in-house too.

There’s a very minimalistic, modern feel to the space, but it’s obviously also a family friendly place. We want kids to know that they’re invited, they can be here, they can touch the walls and stuff like that. There will be kid-friendly spaces. We want it to be inviting for everyone, not just people with food allergies.

hypefoodies2.jpg

Pauline Osena / hypefoodie.com

You’re still serving some things (like chicken or coconut) that are fairly common food allergens. What are some of the ways you’ll be avoiding cross-contamination?

We’re going to have separate (cooking equipment) – so everything used to cook the chicken will be labelled. The chicken would be cooked separately from the beef, stored in separate containers. When we’re serving, it will be one bowl, one serving implement for all the ingredients. We’re going to have lids for all of our serving containers, and the person serving you will have one hand on the lid and the other hand getting your food, so if there’s ever any spillage, it’ll fall on the lid. So someone with a tomato allergy won’t necessarily get tomato juice on their food. Every time we would go into a Freshii, I’d be like, “This place would be perfect for my son, except that there’s cheese in that bowl, and the mayonnaise in the next one.” The cross-contamination piece actually makes dining out as a person with allergies the most challenging. 

Are there any challenges you didn’t anticipate?

The ingredients that we’re choosing are so particular. I think a normal restaurant would just go to a Flanagan’s or a Sysco and say, we need this, this and this. In my case, I’m calling all the manufacturers to make sure the suppliers we’re using have a good allergen protocol, making sure their machine is cleaned between runs, that sort of thing, to make sure that it’s an allergy friendly product.

If I’m putting on the door that it’s (an allergy-free) environment, it’s not just me – it’s the ingredients I’m bringing into the environment as well. But choosing three suppliers versus just one, that’s a small price to pay to make sure you have an allergen-free product. If you ask any allergy parent doing their shopping, they’ll run to Loblaws for one thing, and then go all the way to Thornhill for the other thing. It’s about making sure the ingredients are appropriate.

Someone asked me who our target market was, and we want to make it easier for people with food allergies, but it’s for anyone who feels that that it’s important to know what’s in your food, and the ingredients you’re eating. It’s okay to be picky in my restaurant.

Watch a video of Osena introducing the Hype Food Co. concept below: 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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