Business

Mama Joy bakes food safe for those with dietary restrictions

'We went full in'

Joy Leeper, owner of Mama Joy Foods, sets out her gluten-free, vegan and paleo
Joy Leeper, owner of Mama Joy Foods, sets out her gluten-free, vegan and paleo "Sweet As Sugar" cookies to cool at her home in Alburnett on Monday, December 18, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Joy Leeper said she gets emotional when talking about why she started her natural baked goods business, Mama Joy Foods.

“It’s not just about profits for me,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I know how hard it is to have a child with specific dietary restrictions. I do this out of a lot of love for those families.”

In 2012, at age 10, Leeper’s daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Two years later, despite ongoing treatment with immune-suppressing medication and high-dose steroids, she wasn’t getting any better.

Her doctor recommended new medication and possibly surgery, both of which carried the risk of serious side effects.

“We started researching different options and found a special diet for people like her,” Leeper said. “We went full in.”

By eliminating processed foods and carbohydrates such as grains, dairy and sugars from her diet, Leeper’s daughter was able to regain her health. However, Leeper was spending significant time and energy just to prepare foods that her daughter could eat.

In 2015, Leeper quit her job as a full-time corporate legal assistant to stay home and focus on her family’s needs. The move gave her time to develop recipes for treats such as cookies and doughnuts that her daughter could enjoy despite her restrictive diet.

It was her daughter who first encouraged Leeper to share her baked goodies with others.

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“‘You make the best cookies, you should sell these,’” Leeper recalled her daughter telling her one day.

Leeper’s husband agreed.

“‘There’s nothing like this in the grocery store,’” he told her.

Leeper began selling cookies at local farmers markets during the summer 2015. She then added other baked goods to see what sold best.

“I want to be more than just cookies,” she said. “I want to offer a whole array of products according to what a busy family would need the most.”

Those other products include waffles, breakfast cookies, muffins, pizza crusts and pies. All products are gluten-free, soy-free, grain-free and paleo friendly.

Some also are vegan friendly.

After seeing success at the farmers markets, Leeper started selling her products online. But her ultimate goal was getting her baked goods into grocery stores.

She achieved that this past July when the store manager at Fareway in Marion agreed to carry her cookies.

“I was so excited, I skipped out to my van,” Leeper recalled.

Other stores soon followed, including Hy-Vee, New Pioneer Food Co-op and Bread Garden Market. Mama Joy Foods can be found in seven Corridor locations.

Leeper just hired her first employee to help her keep up with the demand. For now, they bake out of Leeper’s licensed home kitchen in rural Iowa, but Leeper hopes to build her own gluten-free commercial kitchen within the next year, which will allow her to increase output.

For Christmas, Leeper filled an order for 80 pies for New Pioneer.

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“This is more than just a business,” she said. “It’s my social calling to help these people.”

At a Glance

l Owner: Joy Leeper

l Business: Mama Joy Foods

l Email: joy@mamajoyfoods.com

l Website: www.mamajoyfoods.com

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