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Feb-2019

DOLLED UP DESSERTS: MCMASTER SCIENCE GRADUATE DEVELOPS VEGAN AND GLUTEN-FREE TREATS

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After a successful summer of selling vegan and gluten-free treats at fairs and markets, Poletto ended up supplying three cafes (two in Hamilton, one in Toronto) and reconsidering her future.

When Toronto-native Katarina Poletto launched Dolled Up Desserts in the spring of 2016, she did with a $3,000 grant from the City of Hamilton.

Her partner — an advertising and design major — was taking part in the Summer Company grant for entrepreneurial students and convinced her to try it, too. It was meant to fill a few months before Poletto started grad school at the University of Chicago.

“I’ve been baking all my life,” said Poletto, 24. “I grew up in a family where everybody was a super baker. Both my grandmothers, my aunts, my mom would bake two, three times a week. (My mom) was a sugaraholic and she made both my sister and I sugaraholics, too.”

But after a successful summer of selling vegan and gluten-free treats at fairs and markets, Poletto ended up supplying three cafes (two in Hamilton, one in Toronto) and reconsidering her future.

After developing food intolerances in university to gluten, dairy and eggs — as well as different types of meats, legumes and nuts — Poletto couldn’t eat the treats she grew up with anymore. So, she decided to teach herself to bake for her allergies.

“For the first two years everything tasted like garbage, but eventually I got the hang of it,” the McMaster Health Sciences graduate said.

“I understood the ingredients more and I took a very scientific approach to baking. With my background in science — biology and chemistry — I started to understand on a molecular level what was going on with my baking and that really helped me understand the dairy-free, gluten thing and I got OK at it.”

By the time the Summer Company program came along, Poletto knew there was a market for what she was baking — and she had her recipes ready to go.

For three months, the requests for reliable and tasty baking mixes were steady. It was time for her to offer a dessert line in the vegan and gluten-free market. Something not only your celiac friends would enjoy, but so would her butter-loving Italian nonas.

By January of 2017, Poletto started learning about buying in bulk, formulating an assembly line, sourcing affordable packaging, nutrition fact tables and shelf life testing.

She reached out to people in her network: The Mustard Seed, Real Food Market and others in Toronto, Peterborough, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton.

She received orders from across North America while keeping up with her YouTube channel of baking videos.

Poletto is now developing food service-sized baking mixes for professionals, as well as training their staff on gluten-free and vegan baking.

This year, she’s ready for her own shop. The baker gets at least four calls a day asking her whether she’s open — at which point she has to explain she doesn’t have a storefront. Right now, she’s working out of shared kitchen spaces in Hamilton at The Kitchen Collective, and in Toronto.

“I need my own production facilities and I want my own shop,” she said. “The baking mixes are great, but I enjoy supplying the baked treats. The treats connect with people on a different level”

Next up on the treat list: Poletto is developing vegan croissants and egg-free macaroons.

Dolled Up Desserts dessert mixes are available at Goodness Me; freshly baked treats can be found at Coven, 681 Barton St E. or ordered online at www.dolledupdesserts.com. There is a 48-hour turnaround for all orders.

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