How Amy Lacey, Founder of Cali’flour Foods, Made Cauliflower Crust a Freezer Aisle Staple
When Amy Lacey calls something “bland,” she means it as a compliment — especially when she’s talking about cauliflower. In fact, the humble veggie is what inspired Amy to create Cali’flour Foods, a cauliflower-based pizza crust company that is winning over carb-lovers, too.
To say that the chameleon of a vegetable transformed Amy’s life would be an understatement. We got a chance to chat with Amy about how she built her grain-free, cauliflower-based food company inspired by her own personal health journey and the lessons she learned along the way.
Every food entrepreneur has a “why.” What’s yours?
A few years ago, health wise, I hit rock-bottom and ended up getting a pulmonary embolism and was diagnosed with Lupus. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on and while doctors were looking into potential causes, I was put on horrendous medications which had so many serious side effects. It was so bad that I was unable to take care of my youngest son and he went to live with my in-laws. Being a mom and a wife and not being able to fulfill the life that I was used to was pretty traumatic.
With the guidance of a specialist, I eventually went on an elimination diet, cutting out all sugar, grains, alcohol, and dairy and found that this transformed my life. Once I began feeling better, I was able to start taking care of my family again. We used to have Friday night pizza night and play games and watch movies and I wanted to show my kids that normalcy again, so I decided to figure out how to make a grain-free pizza. Cali’flour Foods was born not too long after that.
Problem-solving at it’s finest!
Totally. So I went on the internet and found a cauliflower pizza recipe. There are so many to choose from, but the first couple of attempts were complete disasters. It’s so tricky. I made some of my own changes, and finally got it down, served it to my family, and they loved it. Even my oldest son, who is anti-vegetable, ended up loving it.
So cauliflower was your breakthrough moment?
It’s funny — cauliflower was not a vegetable that we even ate. I never had it in the house because I thought it smelled. But cauliflower is so bland that it takes on any flavors that you surround it with, and I started to realize all the things we could make with it.
We are a big pizza and Mexican food family, so I started with pizza shells and taco crust. Then I branched out to things like cauliflower chocolate peanut butter cookies. When people tell me they don’t like cauliflower, I talk them into trying a bite of these cookies. They are in shock.
When did you realize your crusts were something you could sell?
I started feeling really good. The health coach I was working with and I decided to have “Healthy Happy Hours” on Thursday nights and we served the crusts there. One of the clients encouraged us to take it to the farmers market and that’s when this became a product. We named it Cali’flour Foods, launched it at the farmers market, and ended up selling out before we even got there. It was then that I knew we had something really good. This was in 2016. Today we are available online and in stores nationwide.
Let’s talk brand name. When did it hit you?
There is some confusion out there now and I’m kind of bummed. We picked the name because we’re based in California. It’s our home, our farms are there, our manufacturing facility, everything. The second part is because I learned that I could take cauliflower and make a meal paste and use it in place of white flour. Cali-flour.
Unfortunately, some consumers are confused. They’re like, is it flour? There’s a lot of education that we need to do.
What’s the difference between your crusts and other options on the market?
We use fresh cauliflower — the entire head, including the stems and leaves. We also include minimal additional ingredients. Most competitors have fillers or only use powdered or puréed cauliflower, which reduces the nutritional value and defeats the purpose completely. We literally pick our cauliflower from the farm and bring it straight to our manufacturing facility.
People have learned to manipulate cauliflower and are dehydrating it to make it into a powder that’s cheap and easy to work with. That’s a big negative because it means fillers and nutrient loss. We have six ingredients or fewer, and you can pronounce all of them.
What’s the most inventive use for your crust that you’ve seen customers try?
Goodness, there have been a lot of them. Lately I’ve seen a lot of people cut up our crusts into chips and make them into nachos, which is very clever.
Do you eat Cali’flour foods daily?
Pretty much. I use the crusts in place of bread for sandwiches and love turning them into taco shells too. I turn a muffin pan upside down in the oven and put the crust in between the slots. Then it bakes up like a shell.
Biggest business challenge?
I’m not downplaying being a stay-at-home mom, but to go from that to being a CEO and running a team and being involved in the manufacturing business — the whole nine yards — that was really hard. Since we grew so fast so quickly, I started making silly mistakes. But I hired a phenomenal team of people who are humble but also passionate about the work we do.
Best advice for food entrepreneurs?
Make sure before you launch that you have everything secured. File your trademarks, own your domain name. Unfortunately there are people in the industry who will copy you and you need to protect yourself. That’s not really positive, but it’s the truth. I wish someone would have guided me a bit more on that.
What’s next for Cali’flour?
Keep an eye out for expanded topped pizza options like margarita veggie, chicken pepperoni, and more. (I’ve been eating a lot of those — a lot of R&D!) We also have frozen cauliflower enchiladas and lasagna entrées coming out in the next few months that we’re excited about. Stay tuned because there’s a lot more where that came from.
Thanks so much, Amy! Follow Cali’flour Foods on Instagram, and check out Amy’s latest cookbook, Cali’flour Kitchen :125 Cauliflower-Based Recipes for the Carbs You Crave.