No gluten is no problem for these Ohio bakers

There are many reasons to start a small business, but for longtime entrepreneur Letha Pugh and her wife, Wendy, their gluten-free bakery was born because Wendy’s Celiac disease prevented the family from going out for meals.

Gluten-free baking started off as a hobby for Wendy, who didn’t want her gluten intolerance to prevent her from enjoying sweet treats. But she and Letha soon realized there were plenty of others who also found it difficult to find good gluten-free options. Now they own Bake Me Happy, a bakery and coffee shop serving Columbus, Ohio’s gluten-free community. Today, the business also includes two concession stands, and it sells pre-packaged baked goods to local cafeterias and universities.

Letha, who studied nursing at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, owned two businesses prior to the birth of Bake Me Happy. Getting an education was mostly a means to an end. Her mom was a teenager when she had her and struggled to make a living without a college degree.

“I have been an entrepreneur since the fourth grade,” she said. “I used to sell candy and all sorts of things. In hindsight I should have studied business.”

At the time, nursing seemed like the most stable career choice for Letha; however, that’s not to say she doesn’t make good use of her degree today. After graduating, she went on to use her nursing degree as the foundation of her first two businesses, which centered on healthcare services and she continues to use her degree today in her second job as an administrator at a home health agency. 

Opening a bakery has many expenses. Throughout their experience as small business owners, Letha and Wendy have invested in equipment, rent, branding and more. Originally they self-funded their business, but they soon found themselves in need of loans. Unfortunately, getting capital was a real challenge. Letha shared that it is difficult to know what to spend your money on first, and once you decide, it is difficult to get those loans.

“There are adequate options to gain capital for your business, but the process of securing them is very difficult and there are a whole lot of hoops to jump through,” Letha said.

Letha and Wendy eventually got the loans they needed and are grateful that they have great support systems in their community and feel lucky to have the backing they need to grow their business.

“You never want to be isolated in your business,” Letha said. "It is important to build relationships with people from all walks. If you aren’t surrounded by the right people your business could fail.” 

Small Business Profile