When Marcy Watters found out that her 2-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Celiac disease, she had to make some major changes to her grocery list. Ali could no longer have gluten, a protein found in many foods processed from wheat and other grains.
When Watters couldn't find what she needed in stores, she began baking her own gluten-free goods for her daughter at home. Now more than a decade later, Watters and her daughter still find it difficult to find gluten-free offerings everywhere they go.
"Gluten-free has come a long way in the last 12 years, but it's not where we could walk through the mall and she could get a pretzel or a cookie or something like everybody else," Watters said.
Two weeks ago, Watters opened Ms. Ali's Gluten Free Treats in Twelve Oaks Mall. The bakery offers gluten-free cupcakes, cookies, brownies, doughnuts, muffins, soft pretzels and pretzel dogs. Personal orders are also accepted, and Watters also hopes to start making a bread soon.
A family business
A mother of four and a former radiology technician, Watters said the idea to open the store just came to her one day while walking around Twelve Oaks. Although she and her family live in Fenton, she chose to open the bakery in Novi for its high-traffic mall.
She and her family have spent the last six months preparing to open the store.
Ali, now 14, helped choose the colors for the store—orange and green—and the business' name.
While Watters' 23-year-old daughter, Kayla, who recently received her MBA, helped research and build the business. She said the family wants others to know that they know what it's like to be gluten-free.
"We believe everyone should be able to experience the daily luxuries," Kayla said. "We want to let people know that we understand the need. It's kind of like our slogan - 'It's OK to be different.' We know what that feels like," she said.
Watters said she hopes to open two more stores within the next year — one in Partridge Creek in Clinton Township and one in Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills.
She said the family has enjoyed getting to know the customers who come in the store, share their stories and learn from each other.
"The response has been fantastic. We've honestly had people stand in here and cry after eating their first soft pretzel. It's been phenomenal," she said.
Ms. Ali's is located on the second floor of the mall near Lord & Taylor. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.