Nutrition Liberation

Stacey Schlaman’s search for food to fit her daughter’s autoimmune diagnosis led to a thriving new enterprise now stocking the shelves of Whole Foods and Earth Fare.

 

ABOVE Stacey Schlaman, president of Liberated Specialty Foods in Madison, learned baking while growing up on a small farm in Northern California.. She added a raft of experience in retail, baking and distribution. Photos by Dennis Keim

Plato once said that necessity is the mother of all invention. Stacey Schlaman, president of Liberated Specialty Foods in Madison, believes it. That’s because her desperation to help her own daughter led her and her husband, Jeff Schlaman, to start a business that has helped make “clean eating” easy for families across the country.

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At the age of six, Schlaman’s daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. Over the next three years, she was diagnosed with three more autoimmune diseases. The Schlamans spent the next three years trying dozens of diets attempting to relieve her symptoms: gluten free, nightshade free, dairy free, Paleo and eventually, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).

After years of trial and error, Schlaman found that SCD worked well for her daughter — but was extremely inconvenient, with no easy answers on supermarket shelves. It’s a diet that eliminates most carbohydrates, except for a few that are easy to digest.

“I spent exhausting days in the kitchen recreating foods suitable for a child’s palate that was previously accustomed to goldfish crackers and mac and cheese, ” she says. “I remember thinking about how I wished there was somewhere I could go to just buy this stuff, at least once in a while.”

About a year into making from scratch the foods that would keep her daughter’s symptoms at bay — and connecting with moms across the country fighting the same battle — Schlaman decided to start baking these foods for the masses. After launching Liberated Specialty Foods in 2015, Schlaman’s baked goods and sauces can now be found on the shelves of major food retailers all over the country, including Whole Foods and Earth Fare.

Eating for Healing

After her daughter was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases, Schlaman began researching treatment options that encourage remission.

“I have never been one to administer pills to myself or children without careful consideration, so I was intrigued by the possibility that nutrition could be the answer for us, ” she says. “The more I learned about autoimmunity, the more I was convinced that diet played a huge role in healing. My daughter’s diet needed a massive overhaul and was likely responsible for the multiple diagnoses she’d received.”

While Schlaman says she was “up for the challenge” of a diet overhaul, she quickly realized the shelves in her local grocery stores were not on board yet. “The foods were laden with artificial ingredients, starches, fillers and words I couldn’t begin to pronounce, let alone understand, ” she says.

Schlaman tried numerous diets but finally found some success with the SCD diet. After three weeks, her daughter’s skin was clearing and her digestion was “like clockwork.”

Convinced that SCD was working for her daughter, Schlaman became committed to baking from-scratch pizza crust, birthday cake, muffins and other items with ingredients that her daughter could safely ingest.

After a particularly busy week spent in the kitchen preparing food to take on vacation, Schlaman was almost in tears. “Not only are the ingredients expensive and hard to find at many grocery stores, but when you have to cook everything from scratch yourself, it is incredibly time consuming, ” she says.

Schlaman had connected via a Facebook group with other families who were adopting SCD and realized there were many others who shared her frustrations and her desire to purchase the foods their children needed.

“I found some comfort through online groups and found hundreds of mothers just like myself all feeling the same way, ” she says. “We came from varying backgrounds, but all of us were determined to nutritionally heal our children suffering from autoimmune diseases. We all needed a place where we could trust the ingredients and comply with our diet. After much prayer and meditation, I knew that this was my calling.”

ABOVE Schlaman and her husband — “a multi-skilled and talented CPA” — purchased an old church in Limestone County and renovated it to become a commercial bakery dedicated to ingredients in line with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. “Liberated’s team of bakers are truly committed to the business and one another, ” says Schlaman. “We are ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of people.”

Baking a Business

Schlaman and her husband purchased an old church in Limestone County, and renovated it to become the first commercial bakery of its kind, where breads, cupcakes, pizza crusts, crackers and other foods are hand made with trusted ingredients to serve the growing number of people who want to avoid some traditional ingredients. While she spent a number of years baking these items for her own family, Schlaman’s background and professional career had also prepared her to run such a business.

She grew up on a small farm in the foothills of Northern California with a stay-at-home mom who was rarely “at home” and “is the best baker I will ever know, ” Schlaman says. When she was six, Schlaman and her two older siblings became active in 4-H. “There wasn’t a week that would pass when I wasn’t sticking my hands in dough, tending to chickens, or learning a new form of art, ” she says. “I look back on those years so thankful for the skills all those weekly lessons provided.”

As an adult, Schlaman has worked in bakeries, pizza parlors, retail, gyms and distribution. “I imagine everything I’ve done has shaped the business woman I am, ” she says. “I’m 19 years married to a multi-skilled and talented CPA. I have learned that the most important skills required for this business are tenacity mixed with a lot of compassion.”

In addition to her own background, sweat and vision, Schlaman’s staff has contributed to the fast growth of the business. “Liberated’s team of bakers are truly committed to the business and one another, ” she says. “We are ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of people. Sometimes the work isn’t glamorous or pretty, but the end result can truly be magnificent. Our business has required us to innovate, adapt and plan for the unexpected. So far, so good.”

As she looks to the future, Schlaman remains committed to her company’s mission to provide high quality food that supports people’s nutritional goals in the most convenient, cost effective means possible.

In today’s fast-paced world, that means making the products available through online ordering as well as in local grocery stores, she says.

Liberated Specialty Foods are already found on the shelves of some national grocery chains as well as Amazon, and those offerings will continue growing as Schlaman continues to work toward her goal of improving health through nutrition for families like her own.

Nancy Mann Jackson and Dennis Keim are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Huntsville.

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