When Alexis Imola was diagnosed with a gluten and dairy sensitivity at 16, she said the biggest adjustment was not only finding food she could eat, but that also tasted good.
“I lived it for a really long time, the struggle of not being able to order something I really wanted because of food allergies,” said Imola.
The struggle continued when she moved to Port Dover, and that's when she decided to open her own business to offer healthy takeout options, called Ivory Fern Foods.
“I thought, ‘Hey, other people must feel the same way I feel,’” said Imola. "I wanted something that was more mainstream."
After seeing success in Port Dover, Imola has opened a location here in Downtown Guelph.
Ivory Fern Foods officially opened for takeout in January at the former site of Dis-A-Ray Antiques, at 3 Wyndham St. N. The restaurant offers 'fast fresh food' including power bowls, tacos, smoothies and specialty drinks.
No matter what dietary restrictions or budget residents have, Imola said there is something for everyone.
“Our big thing is focusing on inclusivity,” Imola said about her business, “We want everyone to feel like they can get something.”
Imola points out the customers can also customize their orders to fit different dietary restrictions.
While some businesses may have rules around how customers can customize orders, Imola said there are none at Ivory Fern Foods.
“I’m not a big fan of the 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 lots of fresh ingredients in their food. This stems from Imola’s upbringing, where her family cooked Italian cuisine with lots of fresh produce and made meals with simple recipes.
“I’ve always loved cooking,” said Imola, “My dad always cooked things fresh, I cooked with my Nonna.”
Today, Imola mentions she only uses green leaf lettuce in her power bowls at Ivory Fern Foods because her Nona used to grow it.
“It’s the best,” she said.
Originally planning to open her second location Burlington, Imola said she changed her mind.
Moving to the area a couple years ago, Imola said she has a partner living in the south end of Guelph and enjoyed the area. When her current location became available a year ago, she took it and renovated the storefront.
"This has been a year long process to get up and running," said Imola.
Since opening, the food and business has been well-received by residents, said Imola. She mentions the ability to customize and alternative protein options have really appealed to customers.
“We’ve had really great feedback,” said Imola. “I’ve someone say, ‘I don’t like salads, but I like yours.’”
With the weather warming up, Imola said she is planning to set up an outdoor patio and bar inside Ivory Fern Foods. In the future, Imola is also considering opening a third location, producing oat milk ice cream and selling the sauces used at Ivory Fern Foods.
The sauces at Ivory Fern Foods are made in house and are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, low in sugar or vegan. Imola said many customers have inquired about them, asking if they were for sale.
“I’m a big sauce girl,” she said, “I love sauce and that’s a big passion of mine too.”
Ivory Fern Foods is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.