After 14 years as a stay at home mom, Abby Helman Kelly was ready to go back to work. With a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, she assumed she’d go back to doing what she had always enjoyed—helping people. But when she got cold feet after her first job offer, she trusted her instincts.
“I didn’t wait this long to go back to something that no longer felt like a perfect fit,” Abby explains. “When I’m passionate about something, I’m fully committed, and I only want to give my best to any client or job.”
A BUSINESS IDEA DEVELOPS
Stepping away from the job hunt, Abby spent time thinking about what type of work would be a better fit. During her years as a stay at home mom, she had developed many potential business ideas, but never had the time to do anything other than write business plans. The thought of actually executing one of these ideas or creating a new one had never crossed her mind, until now.
Using her lifelong commitment to health and wellness as inspiration, Abby focused on her gluten-free diet, which she had adopted five years earlier. Since then, many of Connecticut’s restaurants, bakeries and markets had begun offering gluten-free options. Some were even 100% gluten free. But locating these eateries and their offerings was often difficult and time consuming. She relied heavily on word of mouth, as well as regular phone calls to various restaurants nearly every weekend.
Abby knew she wasn’t the only gluten-free Connecticut resident with this problem. She had finally landed on her business idea.
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES IN CONNECTICUT
With the gluten-free market booming, her children in school fulltime, and her passion in place, Abby set out to create the state’s most comprehensive and up-to-date gluten-free resource.
After nearly a year of collecting listings and writing content, Gluten-Free Connecticut launched in August of 2016. The website contains a searchable directory of more than 800 (and growing) restaurants, bakeries, caterers, bed & breakfasts and more, all offering solid gluten-free options.
The directory’s listings range from 100% dedicated gluten-free facilities for the most highly sensitive people, to eateries offering just gluten-free bread for sandwiches. There is also a large blog section with articles written by local experts, including nutritionists, dieticians, chefs, and holistic practitioners. Community forums will be added soon.
Abby’s favorite part of the job is traveling through the state, sampling gluten-free foods, and reporting back on her gluten-free finds. “Chatting with business owners and restaurateurs is really fun and interesting,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about food, health, and supporting local businesses in Connecticut.”
But getting the site up and running wasn’t always a smooth ride. “What I initially thought would be small project on a shoestring budget evolved into something much bigger,” she says. “As it grew in scope and size, it required significantly more technical consult. But at that point, I was determined to make this website the best if could be. So I brought in additional web design experts to help me do that, requiring a significant stretch of the original budget.”
After the launch, traffic on the site ramped up quickly, beating all expectations and significantly increasing Abby’s workload.
“The day the site went live, I began receiving restaurant suggestions and thank you emails,” Abby laughs. “It was both exciting and overwhelming.” The demands of managing the website quickly outgrew her daily schedule, and don’t appear to be easing up anytime soon.
PASSION PAYS OFF
Abby now brings her laptop to soccer practice, guitar lessons, and waiting rooms. She gets up early to send emails, and squeezes web development meetings around grocery shopping and school activities for her four children.
She’s in the process of hiring a college intern to help manage her database and social media to help her focus on expanding the business. She is also adding multiple revenue streams to the site, including local and national advertisers, as well as a platform to purchase gluten-free products. Healthy gluten-free living expos are also in the plans, and will start up in mid-2017.
Abby is delighted with the warm welcome she’s received from Connecticut’s gluten-free community. And, with celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity diagnoses on the rise, it looks like it will continue to grow.
The added benefit of supporting local businesses by bringing them local customers is the “icing on the gluten-free cake,” she jokes. “But what really drives my passion is helping my gluten-free neighbors find great, healthy food, right here, right now. So, in the end, I’m still helping people, and that’s really gratifying.”