A little more than a decade ago, Brandon Thomas dropped from 300 pounds to 175. More recently, he returned home to Memphis after college to take care of his father, who is on dialysis due to diabetes. And even while he was so personally involved in health issues, he never imagined he'd launch the health-conscious Guilt-Free Pastries.
Thomas discovered he's allergic to gluten in August and began experimenting with gluten-free recipes. As Thomas walked through a market with a cart full of avocados, someone got curious and asked why, eventually requesting an impromptu order of avocado brownies.
The request opened Thomas' mind to the possibility of selling to friends and family on occasion, and then another customer materialized.
"He was like, 'What's your company name? Where's the storefront?' I was like, 'You're my second customer, man. I don't know. ... Everything's guilt-free. They're pastries,'" Thomas recalls. "He was like, 'That's a great name.' I was like, 'Okay. Guilt-Free Pastries it is.'"
Thomas soon found a market for his products at Miss Cordelia's Grocery, Stone Soup Café, Phillip Ashley Chocolates, and even a few gyms.
The brownies, $29 for one dozen, are his staple product, though he's since expanded to caramel and vegan versions of the brownie, as well as several cookie options: cinnamon banana, white chocolate chip, and vegan avocado.
Thomas uses coconut flour instead of bleached flour, avoids hydrogenated oil, substitutes avocado for butter, and sources local eggs, honey, and vanilla extract.
Some of the recipes took experimenting. "When I made that first batch of brownies, it was not the prettiest picture. I had to throw them away," Thomas says.
Starting with $500, he's shown an acumen out of the kitchen as well, winning a Start Co. speed-pitch contest, connecting with mentors and securing a grant.
The advice he gets? Set higher price points.
"Right now organic foods are priced for a certain demographic. I don't want that to be the case. I want everyone to be able to eat good, real food," Thomas says.
Though he eventually wants his own store, for now Thomas still accepts orders via email for a single cookie or brownie and will deliver for free.