Back Story: A Bakery Owner Finds Sweet Success


Debbie Adler photographed by Carl Kravats.

You know how there are people in the universe who know what they want to do with their lives from the time they are a zygote? And then they’re born and they pursue their life’s mission with the same strategic precision and planning of a Navy Seal operation? I’m exactly like that. Except the opposite.

What I ended up doing is learning my A, B C’s by going through every career choice known to civilized and not-so-civilized society, in alphabetical order. I graduated college and started out as an accountant on Wall Street. Then I picked up, moved West and promoted myself to B Hollywood actress. After some indie films, a one-woman show and a turn as a stand-up comedienne, I landed in an office as a creative development executive for a television movie-of-the-week production company. This went on and on until I had 26 capital and small case failures on my resume. Don’t believe me? I have references.

But one thing was consistent all along and that was my passion for all things sweet. In a hypocritical kind of way I was also into learning about nutrition in my spare time. So my obsession became trying to figure out how to make healthy and sweet baked goods without using sugar or artificial sweeteners. This was more difficult at the time because stevia was still considered an “illegal” substance except in Japan and China and other all-natural, low-glycemic sweeteners were not yet in our collective conscience or on shelves at Whole Foods.

I started to attend the Natural Products Expos and learned all about xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol – all the tols, as well as the up-and-coming saps that are so popular now such as agave and coconut nectar. I grabbed some samples and ran.

With contraband in hand in my two-by-nothing apartment in Beverly Hills, (yes, dinky kitchens exist in the hills of Beverly), I started experimenting. I baked and baked again and made many icky inedibles. And, slowly but surely I learned what worked.

And when I finally hit on the right formulas for my cupcakes, brownies, muffins and cookies, I had to share. And when other people showed enthusiastic interest in my healthy baked goods, I realized I was onto something.

So on a whim and a prayer I started to sell my nutritionally dense, sugar-free items. All of a sudden, Hollywood came calling. A-list celebrities, heads of studios and customers nationwide wanted me to bake for them.

Just as my business, Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats, was booming exponentially, my life took an unexpected turn. My son, who was one-year-old at the time, almost died from anaphylactic shock after eating a taste of frozen yogurt. My world was turned upside down as I found out in short order that he has life-threatening allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, flax seed and sesame seed. I became active in the food-allergic community and learned that six million children in the United States alone have severe food allergies.

Without a second thought, I revamped my bakery to make it completely free of the most common food allergens and much to my surprise, my business adler cover bulked up and grew like it was on organic steroids. The problem was, there were a lot of people who wanted or needed to make my reformulated goodies at home but didn’t have the recipes.

Since one of my past career moves (I was up to the letter “E” at the time) was editor of a “respectable” teen magazine, I felt I was fully qualified to write a book. I was all ready to sit down and put recipe to paper when I found out in order to get a literary agent you needed a book proposal. So I wrote one. But before sending it out, my doctor husband told me I should seek out a second opinion.

I found a coach who specializes in book proposals for cookbooks and I hired her. She turned my proposal on its head and kicked my keister until it shined like a newly buffed brass handle. Then I sent it to two agents. Both wanted to represent me.

It turns out this is a good problem to have. I chose the one who had a well laid-out strategic plan for pitching my cookbook and it was off to the races. Harlequin won and published my cookbook.

I have come full circle now and am starting at “A” once again. Allergy-free cookbook author is a career choice I never anticipated, but fully embrace. Until I get to the B’s, of course.

Debbie Adler is the author of Sweet Debbie’s Organic Treats: Allergy-free & Vegan Recipes from the Famous Los Angeles Bakery.


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