How This Gluten-Free Baker Grew Her Business From Her Home KitchenInspiring Stories of Our Owners•May 26, 2021• 3 min read
Sway Soturi is the owner of Forest & Flour, a San Jose-based kitchen that offers gluten-free and dairy-free bread, muffins, and cakes made from organic, locally sourced ingredients.
She started the business out of her home kitchen in 2019 when she couldn’t find bread options for her gluten and dairy allergies. Soon, she began making her own loaves and then sold them at a local Bay Area farmers market. Soturi and her team still bake from a home kitchen, offering everything from lavender lemon bread infused with rosemary, thyme, and lavender flowers to chocolate chip cookies made with marshmallow root.
Hello Alice caught up with Soturi to talk about how she got into health and nutrition, why she decided to start a business from her kitchen, and how she grew her business in just two years. What follows are her own words, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Owner, Forest & Flour | San Jose, California
“Just learning how to cook was a necessity for me. I had a pretty rough childhood. I came from a single-parent home, and I grew up in Taiwan. I floated around a lot to live with relatives because my mom was working. I moved from Taipei to Tainan, and then I just went back and forth. Fortunately, one of my aunts was a really good cook. I would go into the kitchen and watch her, and to this day, I still miss her food. It’s just traditional Taiwanese food that’s easy and healthy. I kind of just took up cooking.
I moved to San Francisco with my mom when I was 17 and started hanging out with the wrong people. The party lifestyle kind of fueled itself when I moved to New York when I was 22. After two years in New York, I moved to Hawaii because I was looking at my life and realized I need to stop partying all night. That’s where I met my husband, and we had a child. After my son was born, that’s when I was like, okay, I got real responsibility for taking care of a human being. I gained 50 pounds at that time and was thinking I needed to get back in shape because I grew up as an athlete. I started working out and eating really healthy. We had a community garden plot where we started our own garden, and we would eat what we grew. That’s when I started learning about how eating this way was better for you.
I started my business because I wasn’t able to find anything that was healthy in the store. I have food allergies, so I can’t eat gluten, dairy, or corn. I actually had a local bakery that I was able to get one specific loaf from, but then the owner stopped making them because of health problems. Then, I started making my own bread, and it grew from there.
For us, we did not have any money to start with. We started as a cottage food operation kitchen and baked from our homes. If I came from a wealthier background, it’s very likely I would want to open a store, build my own kitchen first. But selling at farmers markets felt like the right thing to do. I submitted a market application to CFMA, one of the farmers market organizations in the Bay Area. We got a callback and talked to them, and they really liked us. It just took off from there.
We’re so blessed, and we’re so grateful for them for giving us a chance. Because without that first market, we wouldn’t have this growth. We’re doing six markets now, and about a month and a half ago, we started our first grocery in town. We have one wholesale account now, and I’m physically going into the store every day stocking the shelf. That’s how growth looks like for us.
Before Forest & Flour, I had a personal training business that wasn’t taking off. We had actually put in a lot of money. My husband used to work for the Cheesecake Factory, and he had stocks. When he cashed out his stocks, we put his stock money into building my personal training business. Even though that didn’t flourish, I saw that as an opportunity of learning lessons that fueled what is happening right now in our stage for Forest & Flour.
About three weeks ago, we signed our lease to a commercial kitchen in Fremont, which should open in August. With the support of the community and the hard work of our team, we’re growing and expanding. We can finally move into a better space.”