Photography by John Cain Photography.
IIt’s not uncommon for newborns to be allergic to something their mothers are eating. To address the problem, pediatricians ask breastfeeding mothers to cut from their diets the common culprits — dairy, soy and gluten, to name a few. Mothers stop consuming specific items, one at a time, until the problems subside. That’s what happened to neighbor Lauren Schwalb and her then-newborn Hadley.
“I threw in the towel and moved my daughter to formula,” Schwalb says. “It just felt impossible. I was like, how do I do this?”
Both mother and daughter ended up healthy. But the process made Schwalb curious about what was in the food she was feeding her family. As she sifted through her pantry, she realized that almost everything she had contained ingredients she wasn’t supposed to eat.
Then last year, Schwalb and her husband, Stephen, were having dinner with friends, and the Whole30 diet came up as a topic. Stephen announced he was going to try it.
“I am a competitive person by nature, so there was no way I was going to let him do this without doing it with him,” Schwalb says.
Acceptable foods in their new diet included fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. With no gluten allowed, and in a family that loves Tex-Mex, Schwalb began looking for alternatives to the carb-heavy staples of that cuisine. She couldn’t find them, so she began experimenting with almond flour, using it to make tortillas. Her coworkers were the taste-testers.
“I want to be authentic, and I don’t want to be scary,” Schwalb says. “I want people to know that eating healthy can also taste good.”
Eventually, people began requesting Schwalb’s tortillas. It wasn’t just her friends. At the Dallas Farmers Market, she arrived with about 100 packages of eight tortillas to sell. She left with none.
“I thought it could be a business from day one, honestly,” Schwalb says. “But I knew there were lots of things I had to do to continue to prove the concept out.”
She did market research and wrote a business plan. Then she found a food scientist, ingredient suppliers and a co-packer. That last one was challenging to locate because Schwalb was selling a new brand of perishable products. She didn’t want to make a huge investment and end up wasting food. Plus, the demand for the manufacturers was already elevated due to shortages caused by the pandemic. Eventually, she found a co-packer in New Braunfels.
“They get in their cart, and they get their balloons,” Schwalb says. “And then they see mommy’s product on the shelf, and it’s the coolest feeling in the world.”
Ohla! isn’t just a play on words. It also represents her family. The “o” and “h” stand for her daughters’ names. “La” is a nickname Schwalb’s friends have for her, and the exclamation point is for her husband.
Schwalb has made a business out of healthy alternatives and doesn’t crave junk foods, but she hasn’t sworn them off. When the situation presents itself, like at birthday parties, the Schwalbs will still eat cake.
She’s developing additional flavors for the chips. Eventually, she’d like to branch out to other foods including pasta and pizza, or even formulate snacks like Cheez-Its.
“What I really aim for is things that taste like the real deal,” Schwalb says.