When Business Gets Personal

As a management consultant with the Louisville Small Business Development Center, I am continually encouraging my clients to “make it personal” as they work to develop a marketing message that resonates with the intended audience. Chef Angela Pike recently discovered the absolute need to do this for the new business she was creating, The Silly Axe Café, LLC. For the past nine years, Angela Pike ran a successful personal chef business that sent her into the homes of clients that craved her culinary skills on a daily or weekly basis. Towards the end of 2018, she experienced a series of health scares and events that made her realize she was most definitely putting her client’s needs before her own. Chef Angela was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Celiac disease is a disorder in which eating gluten triggers an immune response in the body, causing inflammation and damage to the small intestine. It's estimated that celiac disease affects nearly 1% of the population in the United States. Unfortunately, the solution to this problem is not as easy as simply keeping gluten out of your diet. Some folks, such as Chef Angela, have a higher sensitivity to gluten than others do. They suffer from being in the presence of gluten and often become ill through airborne ingestion. Think pizza restaurants with open kitchens and sandwich shops where bread is baked. Not only is airborne gluten a threat, but also the threat of cross contamination deems the majority of well-meaning restaurants as unsafe. A sandwich shop offering gluten free bread as an option must also offer toppings and other food items that have not been subject to cross contamination during their packaging or distribution process. It was a tough decision to leave her personal chef business, but Angela knew her health would no longer allow her to go into her client’s homes to prepare their meals. Thus, the idea for the opening of The Silly Axe Café was born.

Located at 2216 Dundee Road in the Douglas Loop area of the Highlands, The Silly Axe Café opened in mid-April. The name and logo came from one of Chef Angel’s children as they created a fun drawing of a pun on the very serious word “celiac”. Multiple styles and sizes of axes are decoratively framed throughout the eating establishment, creating a fun environment. The fast casual eatery boasts a 100% gluten-free menu and skills to accommodate most other dietary restrictions. Chef Angela has built a menu that leaves out allergens when possible and trained her staff to know the ins and outs of food concerns. You won't find things like peanuts and lactose in her cafe, and her team will be able to talk you around things like soy when you're ordering. The menu does feature sandwiches, pasta salads and quesadillas. These dishes are typically wheat-heavy and a rarity for anyone following a gluten-free diet. They're also the things Chef Angela has missed most since her own diagnosis. There are also gluten-free beers and ciders on the menu.

While writing her business plan, Chef Angela quickly came to understand the need for reliable market research to show the demand for her business concept in Louisville and to identify potential competitors. Currently, she is the only fast casual, family friendly eatery that focuses on gluten-free food in the Metro area. Her research did connect her with other cities that support gluten free restaurants like Denver, Portland and Ashville. She was able to connect with a few of the founders of these kindred establishments who openly shared their business concepts and insights into opening a specialized eatery that serves a growing population of patrons who choose to follow a gluten-free lifestyle. That’s right, they don’t necessarily suffer from celiac disease, but a growing number of the American population are choosing to avoid gluten for other health concerns. In this way, Chef Angela was able to make a data driven decision to launch a business that was very personal to her. Everyone wins!

Hours for The Silly Axe Café are 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Vallorie Henderson Management Consultant  Vallorie.Henderson@UKy.edu

Vallorie Henderson
Management Consultant