No Nuts Donuts can be purchased by phone, email or Facebook, and starting March 18 will be for sale at the Toano farmers’ market.
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JAMES CITY — Caitie Maharg decided to become a professional chef when she was a 10-year-old brain cancer patient who hated hospital food.
Two decades later, she decided to cook gluten-free, nut-free, vegan treats when her young son was diagnosed with multiple life-threatening food allergies. Maharg wanted Isaiah, now 4, to be able to enjoy the same delicious goodies as other children.
That motherly wish has evolved into No Nuts Donuts, a small business that sells doughnuts online and at a farmers market in Toano. Maharg also plans pop-up bakeries with homemade sweets such as cheese Danish pastries, cinnamon rolls, lemon bars, Pop Tarts and Whoopie pies. None contains any trace of dairy, eggs, nuts or gluten.
Caitie Maharg, owner of No Nuts Donuts, with her son Isaiah, 4, who has anaphylactic allergies to eggs, dairy, wheat, gluten, peanuts and tree nuts. All the doughnuts she sells are vegan, nut-free and gluten-free. Courtesy of Caitie Maharg
“Parents have told me, ‘I’m so grateful because my kid has never gotten to taste a doughnut before,’” Maharg said. “But it’s not just kids. There are lots of adults out there with celiac disease and other allergies who have gone years without eating any of this stuff.”
Maharg, 34, makes more than 15 flavors of cake and yeast doughnuts at her James City County home, including glazed, blueberry, apple cider, pumpkin streusel, maple bacon, toasted graham cracker and s’mores. She also sells doughnut holes.
Everything is safe for Isaiah, Maharg’s helper and taste-tester. Isaiah is anaphylactic to eggs, dairy, wheat, gluten, peanuts and tree nuts and has eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune disorder that causes dangerous inflammation in the esophagus in reaction to allergens.
“Happy,” Isaiah said about how he feels baking with his mom. And his favorite type of doughnut? “A big one.”
Founded in March 2022, No Nuts Donuts has taken off quickly. Maharg sold 1,780 doughnuts and 128 dozen doughnut holes last year despite the fact that she and her husband, Nathan, were busy adopting their second child, a baby girl named Phoebe.
All the doughnuts from No Nuts Donuts, including these vanilla cake doughnuts, are vegan, nut-free and gluten-free. Courtesy of Caitie Maharg
Luckily, Maharg learned about perseverance early in life. The youngest of four siblings raised in Waynesboro, she clearly remembers the moment she was diagnosed with a tumor on her pituitary gland, which produces hormones critical to bodily functions.
In fact, Maharg answered the phone call from the doctor who had her brain MRI results. “He asked for my dad, but I knew from his voice that something was really wrong,” she remembers. “I knew things were going to change.”
Physicians had originally misdiagnosed Maharg’s constant thirst as diabetes insipidus, a hormonal disorder that causes fluid imbalances in the body. Instead, she needed brain surgery, six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatments.
Maharg struggled with severe nausea and fatigue and lost her hair, so she started the sixth grade bald. School administrators bent the dress code to let her wear a hat. Oncologists also warned her parents that the cancer treatments could permanently damage their daughter’s IQ.
“Turns out, nothing hampered Caitie at all,” said Maharg’s father, Lee Paixão. “She graduated from high school a year early. She’s just a very determined and independent person, very strong. Her personality really came out during those times.”
“It definitely made me who I am today,” Maharg agreed. “I take nothing in life for granted.”
Isolated during her recovery, Maharg began watching cooking shows and trying to replicate recipes. As a high school freshman, she spent her Saturdays interning with the executive chef at the Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville.
Maharg initially came to Williamsburg for a 6,000-hour culinary apprenticeship at Kingsmill Resort, graduating in 2010. Back in Waynesboro, she launched a business called BlueOregano that offered gourmet pop-up dinners, catering and cooking classes.
In 2021, Maharg and her family relocated to James City County, where her parents and older sister had moved. By then, she and her husband were raising a child with his own medical challenges.
Adopted as a baby, Isaiah screamed and arched his back in pain each time Maharg fed him formula. He later developed severe eczema, and once he started solid foods, he frequently coughed as if he was choking and regurgitated his meals.
Isaiah’s blood allergy test “just lit up with how many things he is allergic to,” Maharg said. An endoscopy and biopsy at 14 months also confirmed eosinophilic esophagitis, which can damage the tube between the mouth and stomach and cause difficulty swallowing, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Eosinophilic esophagitis, or EOE, is a lifelong condition, although an injectable medication that can help reduce inflammation is available to patients 12 and older. Maharg hopes the treatment will be approved soon for younger kids. For now, the family closely monitors Isaiah’s diet and keeps EpiPen medical devices handy to block the progression of any severe allergic reaction.
All the doughnuts from No Nuts Donuts, including these s'mores yeast doughnuts, are vegan, nut-free and gluten-free. Courtesy of Caitie Maharg
As a stay-at-home mom, Maharg enjoyed tweaking recipes of her own childhood food favorites for her son, from apple pie to goldfish-shaped cheese crackers. She occasionally tried them out on her parents and siblings, too.
About a year ago, Maharg’s sister, Chiara Carroll, called raving about a batch of doughnuts that her three allergy-free children had wolfed down. Carroll encouraged Maharg to start a business, which she did only two days later.
“When I was a kid, I told my parents that I wanted to be a chef to bring joy to people,” Maharg said. “I thought, ‘Well, this is a way I can do that.’”
Maharg cuts dough for yeast doughnuts by hand and cooks them in a small countertop fryer in her kitchen. Cake doughnuts bake in her oven. She sells doughnuts individually at the farmers market and pop-ups and in boxes of six or 12 in person and online.
On each box, Maharg places a sticker that reads “Isaiah 41:10,″ the Bible verse that inspired her son’s name. Her childhood pastor gave her the verse — in which God reminds followers that He will always be with them — when he took her out for ice cream after her cancer diagnosis.
One day, Maharg hopes to open a brick-and-mortar bakery and spread more joy. Some of her happiest moments, however, are simply watching her boy dig into sweets at home.
“Isaiah’s smiles are so beautiful,” she said. “He inspires me every day.”
For information on ordering from No Nuts Donuts, visit the company’s Facebook page, call 757-585-3998 or email email@example.com. Starting March 18, the business also will have Saturday booths at the Toano farmers market located at 3140 Forge Road.
Alison Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org
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