MESA, AZ — For kids with life-threatening food allergies, the world can be a scary and dangerous place. One Valley couple knows the struggle all too well and is now taking action to help other families stay safe.
Nine-year-old Sarah Heath has a life-threatening peanut allergy, something her parents learned after a granola bar mix-up at preschool.
"From that one bite she had her throat closing, her eyes swelled, her face swelled, throwing up, horrible," said Lisa Heath, Sarah's mom.
When the doctor reinforced just how horrible that reaction could have been, the realization was paralyzing and isolating.
"[The doctor said] 'You could have lost your daughter today, you are lucky she survived this,'" Heath said. "[We] pulled her out of school and were scared, how are we going to protect her?"
The Heaths are far from alone. Researchers estimate 1 in 13 kids have a food allergy, and the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergies appeared to more than triple from 1997 to 2008.
So Brendan Heath, Sarah's dad, went back to his executive chef roots, dreaming up dishes that could meet such unique and serious dietary requirements.
"What can we do to make the world a little safer for Sarah?" he said of the question that inspired him.
In December, the couple opened Intentional Foods in Mesa at Dobson and Guadalupe.
"We've researched every single ingredient," said Lisa Heath. "It took us probably a year and a half. Down to the salt and pepper, everything is made in a facility that is free of the top 8 allergens."
That means no nuts, dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, seafood, soy or sesame. For now the cafe's menu is small, but it is already making a big impact for other allergy families, ready to step out of the shadows.
"It just completely opens up our whole world now," said Mandy Velasquez, whose son has severe allergies.
"For a moment you don't have to be such a label-reader or so vigilant about everything," said Mary Rose Eagan. Three of her children have allergies.
The Heaths say the café is just the beginning. They are already working with local schools and Mercy Gilbert hospital to make allergy-safe meals more readily available.
"It's been reaffirming, it's been emotional and we've been building our tribe," said Brendan Heath. "So, finding other people that live just like we do and that's been great."