UCLA alumna and official girl boss, Laurel Gallucci, is the co-founder of Sweet Laurel Bakery in the Pacific Palisades. Her bakery is known for its healthy but still decadent and delicious desserts. All of Laurel’s sweets are paleo, as they are grain-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free. Her Campus was blessed with the opportunity to talk to Laurel and hear a little bit about her business, her UCLA experience and her tips for being a successful business woman.
Her Campus: What year did you graduate from UCLA? Can you tell us a bit about your overall experience, including your major and the clubs you were a part of?
Laurel Gallucci: I graduated in 2008. I enjoyed every minute at UCLA and thrived off of the energy and drive amongst the students. I was a history major with an emphasis on local history. I wrote my thesis on the history and development of early Santa Monica. I spent lots of time volunteering and interning at the UCLA Lab School, where I fell in love with out-of-the-box thinking and education.
HC: Can you explain a little bit about your background, what inspired you to make healthy, natural desserts, and how that influenced your decision to create Sweet Laurel Bakery?
LG: Growing up, I was the baker in my family. I literally took it on as my duty to make cookies for my brothers after school almost daily, and to make all the birthday cakes in the family. After going to UCLA, I went to Pepperdine for graduate school, where I earned my Master’s in Education and teaching credentials. I started as a high school history teacher at Venice High School, and then went on to teach elementary school in Beverly Hills. While I was teaching, I included baking wherever I could, literally. I co-led the after-school cooking club at Venice High School and baked cookies during every finals week for my students. While teaching elementary school I baked or cooked nearly weekly with my students. I couldn’t shake it!
After teaching for 5 years, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s Disease). I was told I had a thyroid issue that was incurable and I would need to be on medication for the rest of my life. As a 26-year-old, this was alarming and scary. It was a downward spiral from then on. Symptoms began to manifest quickly. It all started with severe digestive dysfunction. I had a stomach ache after eating each meal. On top of that, I began to rapidly lose weight and my energy declined.
My family encouraged me to take a year off of teaching to heal. I reluctantly did so, but I am so glad I did. In that year, I started working with an integrative medicine doctor who introduced me to the idea of healing through food. She explained to me that with Hashimoto’s Disease specifically, certain inflammatory foods like gluten can mimic the thyroid antibodies that were attacking my thyroid. She encouraged me to go 100% paleo for a year, meaning cut out all grains, refined sugar, dairy and legumes from my diet. In doing so, I would lessen my body’s inflammatory response and slowly get better. Sure enough, it worked.
Within the year, my energy started to come back. I regained my strength. I also made ALL of my own food. At that time there weren’t any paleo options on the market. I still made all the birthday cakes in my family but did so using ingredients I could eat. I saw how easy yet delicious paleo baking could be. I worked with 5 core ingredients: almond flour, coconut oil, 100% maple syrup, Himalayan pink salt and organic eggs. I started making all sorts of cookies, brownies, muffins and more. One day I brought a cake I had made over to my friend Claire’s house. She was floored by the flavor and literally didn’t believe me when I told her it was about 5 ingredients and paleo (grain and gluten-free, refined sugar-free and dairy-free)! I made her our Chocolate Caramel Cake, which in our cookbook is known as The Chocolate Cake that Changed Everything! It was at that moment Sweet Laurel was born.
HC: Did you always know you wanted to go into the culinary business? What was your career path before Sweet Laurel Bakery?
LG: Nope! I was a school teacher, and I had no idea this was in my future. But I always loved making food for people, especially baked goods!
HC: As a business owner of a successful bakery, what have been the most difficult challenges to overcome during your career journey? Also, what has been the most rewarding part of this experience?
LG: Being assertive has always been tough for me, and that’s a very important trait as a business owner. I literally grow in this area daily. The most rewarding part of the journey is seeing how much our cake, baked goods, cookbook and workshops affect people in a positive way. Some of our customers haven’t had a slice of cake on their birthday in years!! And to be able to create something for people that gives so much joy is an amazing feeling.
HC: What is the ultimate goal that you hope to achieve for Sweet Laurel Bakery?
LG: Touch as many people as possible with our baked goods.
HC: If someone were to try one thing at your bakery, what is your number one favorite dessert that you would recommend and why?
LG: Well…if we’re talking cake, my favorite right now is our Keto Cake. In terms of baked goods, I’m literally addicted to our vegan chocolate chip banana bread!! Our snickerdoodle cookies are a must-try as well. And we also sell chocolate chip cookie dough which you can take home and bake yourself!!
HC: What advice can you give to college women with similar entrepreneurial and creative aspirations?
LG: Do what you love, and take ownership. Also, be open to collaboration with others, as strategic partnerships go a long, long way.
Thank you so much to Laurel Gallucci for taking the time to speak with us! She is truly one of the most inspiring women Her Campus has gotten to interview, and we hope all the best for her and her business! Make sure to try out Sweet Laurel next time you are in the Pacific Palisades!