When Alexis Imola was diagnosed with gluten and dairy sensitivity at 16, she said the biggest adjustment wasn’t just finding food she could eat, but that also tasted good. .
“I went through it for a very long time, the struggle of not being able to order something I really wanted because of food allergies,” Imola said.
The struggle continued when she moved to Port Dover, and it was then that she decided to open her own business to offer healthy takeaways, called Ivory Fern Foods.
“I thought, ‘Hey, other people must feel the same as me,’ Imola said. ‘I wanted something more mainstream.’
After finding success in Port Dover, Imola opened a store here in downtown Guelph.
Ivory Fern Foods officially opened in January at the former site of Dis-A-Ray Antiques at 3 Wyndham St. N. The restaurant offers “fast and fresh food” including energy bowls, tacos, smoothies and specialty drinks.
No matter the residents’ dietary restrictions or budget, Imola said there is something for everyone.
“Our big thing is to focus on inclusiveness,” Imola said of his business, “We want everyone to feel like they can get something.”
Imola points out that customers can also customize their orders to accommodate different dietary restrictions.
While some companies may have rules about how customers can customize orders, Imola said there are none at Ivory Fern Foods.
“I’m not a big fan of rules,” she said. “You should be able to get a certain sauce on your order if you want.”
Besides the highly customizable menu, Imola said Ivory Fern Foods incorporates many fresh ingredients into its food. This stems from Imola’s upbringing, where her family cooked Italian food with lots of fresh produce and prepared meals with simple recipes.
“I’ve always loved cooking,” Imola said, “My dad always cooked fresh stuff, I cooked with my Nonna.”
Today, Imola mentions that she only uses green leaf lettuce in her power bowls at Ivory Fern Foods because her Nona grew it.
“It’s the best,” she said.
Originally planning to open its second location in Burlington, Imola said it had a change of heart.
Moving to the area a few years ago, Imola said she had a partner who lived in south Guelph and she liked the area. When her current location became available a year ago, she took it and remodeled the storefront.
“It took a year to get up and running,” Imola said.
Since opening, the food and business have been well received by residents, Imola said. She mentions the ability to customize and the alternative protein options have really appealed to customers.
“We had very good feedback,” Imola said. “I have someone who says, ‘I don’t like salads, but I like yours.'”
With global warming, Imola said it plans to install an outdoor patio and indoor bar at Ivory Fern Foods. In the future, Imola also plans to open a third site, producing oat milk ice cream and selling the sauces used at Ivory Fern Foods.
Sauces from Ivory Fern Foods are homemade and are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, low-sugar or vegan. Imola said many customers inquired about them, asking if they were for sale.
“I’m a big sauce girl,” she said, “I love sauce and it’s also a big passion for me.”
Ivory Fern Foods is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.