Erin McKenna: Bringing Allergy-Friendly Magic to Disney World
Growing up in San Diego, Erin McKenna remembers Disneyland as a “fantasy land”. Once a year, she and her 10 siblings would pile into the family station wagon and visit “The Happiest Place on Earth,” complete with rides, famous characters, and delicious oversized treats ranging from massive clouds of cotton candy to lollipops the size of saucers.
To this day, Disney still holds a special place in McKenna’s heart and now, her business.
The well-known baker first opened a Walt Disney World location of BabyCakesNYC – the famed celiac-safe, allergy-aware bakery – in 2010. Now this year, she has reopened her Orlando-area shop under a self-titled new brand: Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC. The bakery was dearly missed when it shut down last year due to Downtown Disney renovations – but McKenna and her energetic team are back and thrilled to once again offer ‘friendly’ fare to Disney World visitors.
“Disney has always been fantastic about offering options for people off the menu who have food intolerances, but I thought to have an actual bakery where people could visit and pick out one of everything and be safe, that was something that was going to really enhance the experience for guests,” said McKenna.
It’s an experience that McKenna truly understands since she is both wheat and dairy intolerant. It was her dietary restrictions, and love of great baked goods, that inspired her to create a safe, sweet haven for those with allergies and intolerances. And so, BabyCakesNYC was born.
First opening in 2005 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the vegan, gluten-free, organic bakery that is also free from refined sugars and all nuts except coconut, now has three locations across the U.S. – including a newly reopened site in Orlando’s Downtown Disney.
Everything ranging from brownies to cinnamon buns to donuts are made fresh in each store to ensure safety. While the bakery is completely gluten-free and vegan, the one caveat is that the gluten-free flour used is processed on the same equipment that packages nut flours and soy. However, the manufacturer power-washes following those runs and discards the initial 30 pounds of flour in-between the runs.
The primary location is in Downtown Disney, McKenna’s bakery products are available all over Walt Disney World at restaurants, resorts and many eateries.
Originally known for it’s famed cupcakes – which New York magazine named the “best cupcakes” in city in 2006 – the refurbished bake shop is now serving both sweet and savory confections. “It’s more of a full service bakery rather than just a sweet shop,” explains the baker, who hinted that more menu items are on the horizon.
Families come in and leave with armfuls of bagels, says McKenna, the same thing she does when visiting their Florida location.
“The most amazing part to me is seeing people who don’t have food allergies come in and become regulars because they just like the taste better,” she says.
The most popular menu item? The cookie sandwich: two crispy yet chewy chocolate chip cookies with frosting in the center, served chilled so it almost tastes like an ice cream sandwich.
But, for McKenna, enabling every Prince or Princess to safely enjoy the delights she remembers from her trips to Disney is what’s magical. “It’s like a dream come true,” she says.