It all started with a little cupcake. Joy Page was on a trip to British Columbia with her husband Don and wandered into a bakery that serves the now über-trendy dessert.
“I couldn’t get these cupcakes out of my mind,” she says. “I kept saying someone should open a cupcake store in Bellevue.”
In 2004, she became that someone. A former real estate agent, Joy launched a stylish little cupcake spot in Bellevue Square called New York Cupcakes. Although she sold the shop in 2008, the in-vogue dessert proved to be a delicious stopover on her journey to becoming a baked-goods business maven.
In fact, it was during the initial construction of New York Cupcakes that she first learned about gluten-free baked goods.
“A contractor’s sister had developed these flour alternatives, and he said we just had to try her cookie recipe,” Joy says. “It tasted so good. I thought I should focus my time on this.”
With her interest piqued, Joy began researching gluten allergies and decided to launch WOW Baking based on that original recipe.
“We started with a small offering locally and eventually partnered with a large distributor,” she says. “Now, we’re all over the country in specialty grocery markets and coffee shops.”
With sales growing 400 percent in 2009, the past year was a big one for the young company. Despite the recent growth and a full production facility, roles are still interchangeable.
“Jenn, our COO, drives the forklift and my husband occasionally drives the delivery truck sometimes,” she says. Even her young sons, Max and Derek, get in on the fun during the summer.
“I have Max put stickers on the boxes,” Joy says. Meanwhile, everybody takes part in the taste testing in WOW’s research kitchen.
“My favorites are the Oregon oatmeal cookie or the brownie. I go through phases.”
But no matter how sweet the product, balancing full-time work with full-time motherhood can be a challenge.
“It’s really difficult. I can do a lot from home, but at first it was a challenge because they didn’t understand when mom is working. I’d be on a conference call and they’d just bolt in,” she says. “Now, they understand when I’m working. I also bring them on regional business trips sometimes. I’ll visit with a vendor and then we’ll do something fun together.”
Although her kids do not have gluten allergies, Joy’s connection with her own children evokes emotion when she talks about celiac disease.
“One of my kids is in preschool and allergies are a prominent issue in classrooms,” she says.
Ranging from irritability to severe stomach issues, children living with this digestive disease can’t tolerate gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
“To have a child be singled out and not able to have a yummy cookie with everybody else is a really sad thing,” she says.
Her favorite part of the job is hearing stories from her customers.
“We get an overflow of heartwarming messages,” she says.
Joy grew up in Bellevue and her father was well known as the proprietor of Andrew’s Farms.
“My father came over very poor from the Philippines when he was 17,” she says. “His farming practices were very natural and balanced.”
Although she never saw herself following in her father’s footsteps, WOW carries on some of her father’s natural ethos in its production practices.
“Ninety percent of our waste is recycled or composted and the ingredients are premium all-natural, with some certified organic,” she says. They’re also looking into solar panels to supply the production facility’s energy.
Taste still trumps all, though, and Joy resists being pigeonholed as a gluten-free novelty.
“We’re really a gourmet baking company,” she says. “They just happen to be gluten-free and all-natural.”