Hell Yeah Gluten Free bakery opened at the Dickey on Dekalb Avenue earlier this month following more than a year of pop-ups throughout Atlanta.
After raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign, owner Alejandra Luaces spent months hunting for the right space for her gluten-free bakery. She finally landed on a location at 900 Dekalb Avenue, also home to LLoyd’s Lounge and its coffee shop, Dekalb Athletic Club.
Hell Yeah can be described in one word: iridescent. The cement floor changes color as one walks over it, thanks to glitter paint. Beautiful pendant lights seem to shift depending on the perspective. The space is bright and cheerful, with high ceilings and white walls and a yellow accent wall by the bathroom.
The bakery — while stunning to look at — works as a takeout-only place. There are some seats inside, but no outdoor seating.
Hell Yeah Gluten Free’s menu changes often, as the bakery depends on seasonal ingredients, local farm partnerships, and farm delivery services like the Turnip Truck. Expect to find overnight oats, dessert cups, and cake bombs as well as bread products, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and new creations, including the popular vegan sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. The delicate cakes Luaces creates with edible flowers are also available to order.
For now, Hell Yeah offers a few premixed drinks on its menu, like horchata and pumpkin-flavored golden milk. Luaces plans to eventually offer coffee and other specialty drinks, too.
Luaces put together a multidisciplinary team of people who could approach the challenges of bakery management in new ways. “We want people open to knowledge,” she says. “We have a radiologist, and some people didn’t get it. We hired her because the medical field is so high pressure and so intense — similar to a kitchen.”
Once everything settles down, Luaces envisions expanding into a warehouse to start shipping nationally. She’s looking into grocery partnerships, saying there is a demand for gluten-free baked goods.
“This is mostly a workspace ... we invite people into our world,” Luaces says. “They can see the process and see where their food comes from. My vision for this location is for it to be our flagship.”
But the funding needed and the process involved in opening her own bakery proved more challenging than she expected.
As a self-described analytical person, Luaces thrives on studying recipes, experimenting with unusual ingredient combinations, and keeping track of what works and what doesn’t — like a scientist.
It’s how she taught herself to bake. Before that, it’s how she learned to code, while working as a sex worker in Florida. Later, she moved to Chicago and then Atlanta to pursue a software engineering career.
Through trial and error, and inspired by her own gluten allergy, Luaces started baking goods for her co-workers at Mailchimp, where she was a software engineer for nearly three years. She soon found herself getting orders and catering requests, and she had a short-lived supper club, inviting friends into her home for a limited seasonal menu. It served as a lab of sorts for the cooking and baking techniques she was learning.
As orders poured in and the fledgling baked-goods business became more successful, last summer, Luaces finally made the decision to quit her job at Mailchimp to focus on growing Hell Yeah Gluten Free.
Working out of her Cabbagetown loft, Luaces set up a makeshift photography studio in her living room to capture her gluten-free doughnuts, made with edible foil; flaky turnovers; and gluten-free biscuit experiments. Fans of her baked goods followed her on Instagram to order from the weekly menu.
As her online following expanded, Luaces outgrew her home kitchen and went looking for a permanent space for the bakery. The search proved more difficult than she hoped, due to increasing rents around the city and the inability to find a location with the square footage required for her baking operation.
Earlier this year, Luaces partnered with Queen of Cream to serve her baked goods out of the Old Fourth Ward ice cream shop on Fridays and Saturdays. Lines often snaked out the door and around the block.
In the meantime, she continued searching for the right space.
Luaces admits that even with successful pop-ups and a thriving online business, the costs of operating Hell Yeah Gluten Free and preparing to open a bakery were mounting. While her Kickstarter campaign surpassed its $20,000 goal, Luaces says she only received a small percentage of the money after taxes and fees. She did receive a $5,000 grant from the Dream Warriors Foundation, but it was split over quarterly payments. Luaces funneled her savings and 401(k) into the business — and now onto her credit cards, as her bank loans have taken a while to be approved.
Despite reading small-business literature on funding, Luaces felt underprepared for the actual cost of opening a food business in Atlanta. She moved forward with an expediter for city permits so she could focus on the bakery. The expediter set her back $5,500.
“I’m in huge amounts of debt, so it’s not like it [the bakery] magically happened, but this is what it takes [to open a business],” says Luaces. “I think that people aren’t really as transparent as they should be about how hard this process is. It’s very different if you don’t have a lot of collateral or are not part of a restaurant group.”
Adding to her frustrations, Luaces says she felt like her year-old business wasn’t taken seriously by banks and investors, which consider it a startup and a risk.
Luaces connected with local business owners and entrepreneurs from across the country, connecting on Instagram and exchanging advice on getting through the challenges of opening a business.
She forged ahead.
In March, Luaces kicked off a final round of crowdfunding via GoFundMe to offset the costs in the last stretch of the bakery’s build-out. As of publication, she has raised over $9,600 of the $25,000 goal.
Now, with the bakery finally open and she and her team finding their day-to-day groove, Luaces simply hopes customers feel welcome at Hell Yeah Gluten Free, regardless of whether they have a food allergy or not. She promises not to ask questions, since “everyone makes private choices every day.”
“I just want people to feel like they can be themselves in this space,” Luaces says. “We want to be unexpected and weird, and technically it shouldn’t work, but it does.”
Wednesday - Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
900 DeKalb Avenue NE, Suite 500, Atlanta. hellyeahglutenfree.com.