CHICAGO — Two moms who met at a book club and while coaching start-ups together have started a growing food business on the West Side of Chicago.

They are serving allergen-free food while also serving those in need of a second chance and a job.

Under the label Every Body Eat, Trish Thomas and Nicole Wilson started the business that sprung from necessity when Trish developed chronic health issues.

Nicole Wilson (L) and Trish Thomas (R)

“I ended up with a whole bunch of autoimmune diseases,” Thomas said. “I worked with the doctor here in town, changed my diet. So I took out gluten, dairy, soy, corn and egg and really put all of my autoimmune diseases into remission, but there was nothing I could eat.”

So Thomas started to search for food she could eat and the rest of her family as well.

“I always try to be a gracious host, so we would be eating lunch and I’d be like ‘Do you wanna eat this?’ and she’d be like ‘This is terrible,'” Thomas said.

Wilson said she was quite honest with her reviews.

“I worked with PepsiCo in Frito Lay and to me the pallet is first and foremost,” Wilson said. “And what was coming across the dining room table was not up to snuff.”

For decades, Wilson worked for PepsiCo. with a master’s degree from Stanford University, she oversaw a $33 billion research and development portfolio.

Thomas has some business experience as well. She started and sold her first company only four years our of college. As a serial entrepreneur, she had consulted on digital strategies for IBM, Dreamworks, Hasbro and Nissan.

In 2016, the two started a plan. They began experimenting in their own kitchens with food for people with special diets. Food free from all of the top 14 allergens.

After declining offers from big food makers because they wanted to make their products free from a couple of allergens, not the comprehensive approach the two wanted, they made the decision to go at it alone in 2019.

They began with a 1,000-square-foot old hot dog stand in Evanston.

Things were going great until the pandemic forced them to close for two months.

“The naysayers were all around, everybody, every time somebody said ‘You can’t do it,’ that’s exactly when we said ‘Yeah we can do it,” Wilson said.

After getting a PPE loan, they were back in business. By mid-May 2020, things were going so well they moved into an 8,500-square-foot facility in Chicago.

“If there was ever a lightbulb moment, I started thinking, if we build this out, we’re gonna do it right,” Wilson.

Doing it right also meant employing the right kind of people, the sector of our society anxious to be given a new leave on life.

Frank Jones

People like Frank Jones who was in and out of prison four times.

But now, in his late-40s with this support network, he’s left that old life behind for a future that’s brighter than it’s ever been.

“I love it,” Jones said. “I love it and to be honest with you, it’s something that I know that I’m helping other people.”

Of the 41 employees at Every Body Eat, 65% of them have been incarcerated, some have been homeless too. But now they are doing things they’ve never done before.

“I have employees that have gotten the first cars with us, employees first apartment with us,” Production Manager Nikiyah Moten said.

Every Body Eat makes snack things and crisp breads in a variety of flavors that Wilson and Thomas boast are so delicious people without a need for a special diet enjoy them too.

They have partnered with Whole Foods, Amazon, Mariano’s and soon Jewel.

They are eyeing a bigger place in the months ahead.