Alejandra Luaces, Baking Maven, Hell Yeah Gluten Free
photos courtesy of Alejandra Luaces
As I enter Alejandra Luaces’ Cabbagetown apartment, the spot where now many pick up her donuts, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, cakes, and more on a daily basis, she welcomes me with two donuts. The blueberry one caught my eye as it was beautifully adorned with a sweet glaze, a plump blueberry and edible foil. I wanted to eat it immediately.
Alejandra’s Hell Yeah! Gluten Free baked goods have taken over parties, breakfast tables, and most recently, even Creative Mornings here in Atlanta. The former MailChimp engineer went full-time on Hell Yeah! only a few weeks ago, but had been building up her momentum for the past two years while sitting at her desk in her Ponce City Market office.
A self-described former bad baker, Alejandra got inspired to better her skills after a few marathons of “The Great British Bake Off” TV show. While at first she baked pastries with regular flour, she quickly switched off to gluten-free to be able to enjoy her own treats.
“I've been able to ramp up to the skill level that I'm at now because of very focused practice,” says Alejandra. “I would find a recipe and practice it over and over again, modifying very small things each time. Almost following a scientific process and that was crucial to my development plus reading a lot about the chemistry of baking.”
Aside from bringing her treats to her co-workers on a daily basis, she started a supper club where she would send emails to friends and invite them into her home for a limited menu. She used MailChimp's typewriter to type up the menu based on seasonal ingredients she found at the local farmer's market. About 10 people would show up on the designated date and Alejandra would serve them a 5-6 course meal, with new fancy cooking techniques she had learned and new-to-her ingredients.
“I really cling to that, giving people comfort. I come from a Hispanic family, so that's our thing — feeding people and comforting. I'm from Miami originally, half Cuban and half Spanish,” says Alejandra.
When she made the decision to go full-time on Hell Yeah!, it seemed like an obvious one. She was baking before and after work until the wee hours of the morning as she received more and more orders.
Her curiosity for thinking up new flavor pairings and baking recipes slowly took over her 9-5 job. "It just got to a point when I needed something new. It's silly but I follow all of these astrologers and a lot of them mentioned during that time that something huge was going to happen with my career. Well, if the stars say so! I gotta do it. I was looking for a sign."
The stars were right. Alejandra was quickly built a community of donut lovers through Hell Yeah Gluten Free, both online and in Atlanta. She received her first non-MailChimp order in May 2018 and a month later, she had to close her calendar on a weekly basis because she was as busy as ever.
Her more than 1,500 followers on Instagram get a chance to see the behind-the-scenes process of baking her gluten-free treats, including when she thinks up of new ones. Currently, she's working on flaky turnovers in peach, apple, and blueberry. She’s also conscious to use seasonal ingredients and support local farmers on a weekly basis.
Her design background shines through her photographs as she artfully selects vibrant color backgrounds and lighting that makes her goods pop off your phone — making you hungry in an instant.
One thing that she always keeps in mind? Being authentic. She shares that she’s careful to not overly curate her feed since she wants her customers to understand the labor that goes into their delicious baked goods. A recent Instagram story saw Alejandra enter panic mode as she could not figure out a certain feature on her new industrial KitchenAid mixer. Shortly after her posts explaining the issue, multiple people reached out to her to lend a hand.
“I always knew that Instagram would be my biggest avenue for marketing,” says Alejandra. “My brand tends to be very visual and much different than anything else in Atlanta. I felt from the beginning that I should photograph things in weird ways, that make me happy. This is food that creates memories and that you can get really messy with and enjoy.”
Not all reception has been as warm. Since Alejandra’s kitchen is bursting at the seams in her small apartment in Cabbagetown, she was actively looking for a commercial kitchen space in Atlanta that aligns with her small business.
After a few unanswered phone calls and dead ends, Alejandra’s white boyfriend had the idea to call those same spots as well. To her surprise, his phone calls were returned immediately and places were offered for often $500 less a month than what she was told. The sexism and racism were palpable, she shares.
“I hate dishonesty and I have money to give, but someone has to be really excited about what I'm doing and working together,” says Alejandra.
Alejandra is not letting those experiences get her down. She pushed through and finally found a dreamy spot in Summerhill with the right landlord, with an anticipated opening date of Spring 2019. Later this month, she will be launching her Kickstarter campaign to fully furnished the gluten-free kitchen with better appliances and offer her dedicated community a chance to grab onto some sweet rewards like one-on-one baking classes, small parties, baked goods, and more.
“It's been a good reception,” says Alejandra. I think there's always going to be competition and in food, it's really fierce. I think there’s room for everyone. I have a very specific customer and I admire a lot of the bakers in town, like Little Tart Bakeshop's Sarah. I want us to all get together and make something bigger than ourselves and our own personal thing. That's really important to me"