Ground Floor: Gluten-free bakery provides access to delicious desserts

North Liberty business owner's own food allergies were motivation for launching venture

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Catherine Kastens founded her new business, Cat’s Cupcakes, on the philosophy that dessert should be accessible and delicious to all.

Kastens knows firsthand the difficulties people with food allergies have in finding delicious and safe desserts.

About five years ago, Kastens was diagnosed with severe gluten and dairy intolerance. In adjusting to her new dietary restrictions, she found it difficult to satisfy her craving for a favorite indulgence – dessert.

“It was really hard to find dessert that is gluten and dairy free,” Kastens said, noting that many traditional bakeries have limitations stemming from cross-contamination and therefore cannot guarantee the safety of their food for persons with allergies.

“Allergies, food intolerance, autoimmunity, and other issues can take the fun out of food for you personally and can make you feel left out and isolated socially.”

After watching a “Cupcake Wars” marathon on Food Network one weekend, Kastens set out to perfect a gluten- and dairy-free cupcake recipe of her own. She began experimenting with different combinations of non-wheat flours like coconut, almond, rice and sorghum.

“It was a headache until I got accustomed to working with the ingredients,” Kastens said. “It takes four to five different kinds of flours to get the right texture and taste.”

Kastens came across some gluten-free bloggers online and used their advice and help to fine-tune her recipes. She then began sharing her cupcakes with friends and found that even those without food allergies loved them.

This past Thanksgiving, Kastens set a goal to have her own cupcake bakery open by Jan. 1.

“I wanted to make my cupcakes available to people in the community who need this type of thing because I know how hard it is,” Kastens said. “Plus, they taste really good.”

Cat’s Cupcakes offers a variety of cupcake flavors like Devil’s Food Cake, Put the Lime in the Coconut (lime cupcakes with coconut frosting), and Cookie Dough Surprise. All products are free of gluten and dairy. There also are several soy-free, nut-free, grain-free and vegan options.

Customers may browse the cupcakes on the bakery’s website and place orders via email or phone. Cat’s Cupcakes also soon will be available for pick up at Scratch Cupcakery in Coralville.

Kastens bakes out of her home kitchen, which is a dedicated gluten-free area and has been inspected and licensed by the Johnson County Department of Public Health. While she said she foresees a future need for more baking space, she currently has no plans to open a store.

“I don't have a desire to compete with the many bakeries and cupcake shops that have surged in the recent years,” Kastens said. “My goal is to be healthy and happy and to help others to be healthy and happy.”

“I want dessert – in the form of a cupcake – to be accessible and delicious to everyone.”

At a Glance:

  • Owner: Catherine Kastens
  • Business: Cat’s Cupcakes
  • Email:
  • Phone: (319) 330-7212
  • Website:

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