North Allegheny student helps food allergy sufferers enjoy eating again
Brandon Negri loves pizza, despite the fact that he’s allergic to nearly all the ingredients that go into a traditional pie.
You can often find the 17-year-old enjoying a slice at Mandy’s Pizza, his family’s business in West View.
At age 9, unfulfilled by gritty, gluten-free bread topped with a beet-based marinara sauce, he began experimenting in the kitchen with his parents, Steve and Veronica, and came up with a crust everyone could enjoy.
The top-secret recipe is devoid of wheat, soy, dairy, nuts, corn, legumes, gluten, egg, casein, seafood and sesame.
Once word got out about Mandy’s allergen-free dough, people affected by life-threatening food allergies began flocking to the Perry Highway spot from as far away as Brazil and Germany. The eatery serves about 200 of Brandon’s specialty crusts each week.
It’s a laborious manufacturing process — one that Steve undertakes himself in-house each morning — but well worth it.
“When you see a kid smile or a mom start crying because she sees her child enjoying pizza for the first time, it’s amazing,” Steve says. “At that point, it isn’t just a pizza, it’s an experience.”
In addition to offering an array of traditional appetizers, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and desserts, Mandy’s boasts separate gluten-free, allergen-free and vegan-friendly menus. During the Lenten season, customers pour into the shop for the gluten-free battered fish.
Brandon’s Allergen-Free Sweets N’ Treats, including donuts, cookies, cookie dough and brownies, are sold at the shop and online at www.brandonsbestallergenfree.com. The munchies are made-to-order within three to four business days and shipped all over the country.
Brandon, a junior at North Allegheny, says he was tired of feeling like an outcast at birthday parties and other celebrations. Mass produced, allergen-free goodies literally left a bad taste in his mouth, so he spent more than three years perfecting his recipes, including four different flour blends.
Amanda Burk, owner of the Sugar Spell Scoops, a vegan ice cream shop in Sharpsburg, uses some of Brandon’s goodies in her batches.
“I had the idea to do a coffee and donuts flavor using Brandon’s products,” Burk says.
“Brandon’s Best supplied me with some donuts that I paired with coffee ice cream and also some brownies that I used with peanut butter ice cream. Both flavors were hits, but people especially loved the peanut butter brownie flavor. And, I loved how the brownies worked in the ice cream — the perfect mix of fudge and crispy bits that crumble perfectly in the ice cream. It’s also wonderful that they are gluten-free and therefore safe for such a wider audience.”
The Negris, who live in Franklin Park, challenge anyone to tell the difference between Brandon’s confections and those from a traditional bakery.
While Brandon plans to pursue a career in graphic design, he says his passion for helping folks with food allergies will always lead him back into the kitchen.
“His motto is, ‘Serving people one safe bite at a time’ and that’s really what we try to do here,” Steve says. “We are always trying to better ourselves and find new ways and tastes so people aren’t stuck with the same thing.”