Hospitality & Tourism  June 3, 2024

Entrepreneur credits crazy ideas with success

BOULDER — Melody Hu suspects she has ADHD, but she’s glad she wasn’t diagnosed with it as a child. 

She was a theater and dance major in college and used to play saxophone but now plays cello and has always played piano. She spent more than a decade in the watch and jewelry industry. She’s lived in 12 cities and four countries and three continents. Later, raising her kids with her French husband, an engineer, in San Francisco, she taught fitness classes part-time and baked for fun.

She wouldn’t have had those experiences had a doctor thought he needed to “fix” her boundless energy and endless desire to try new things, and she thinks her self-described scattered life and crazy ideas, hallmarks of ADHD, led her to her purpose. She believes in it so strongly that she calls it a mission, even when it, just like her to-do list, nearly got sidetracked. 

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Hu, 42, now owns Sweet Diplomacy in Louisville, a bakery for special diets, although you don’t have to have one. She bakes treats free of gluten, nuts, animal products, sugar and dairy. She will occasionally take requests, though she’s so busy that her opportunity to do so is dwindling. One request for special cupcakes, from the mother of a 5-year-old who had never had a birthday party, got her started in 2017. She pulled it off and loved hearing about the boy’s joy at being able to eat a treat and share them with friends who couldn’t tell the difference. 

“I found my calling to serve people,” Hu said. 

Hu grew up in Taiwan, where the key ingredient in baked goods is glutinous rice, sometimes called sticky rice, a naturally gluten-free ingredient despite its name. She missed it and decided to bake with it. Her husband loved it so much he told her to sell it. You don’t have to tell Hu something twice: She started selling her goods at a table at places such as Whole Foods. She opened a retail store in Los Altos, California, and had a grand opening with a jazz band and a magician in the first part of 2020. You know what happened next, but the setback failed to discourage her. 

“How do you interpret life?” Hu said. “What is it trying to tell you?”

It told her to wander again, and so she and her family took a spontaneous trip to Colorado. She was discouraged by California’s nearby forest fires and smoky air and wanted someplace that smelled of pine: They wound up in Boulder. Had she stayed in Colorado one more day, when the forest fires began to rage, she may not have moved here, but that’s life, she said. They were already in love with the mountains, and her husband, like many workers in 2020, was working remotely. She found a terrific studio in Louisville, fixed it up as a kitchen and began shipping treats nationwide, including to many repeat customers in California who had a hard time finding delicious desserts that fit their touchy stomachs anywhere else. 

“This is my favorite place I’ve ever lived so far in my life,” Hu said. “Something about this spot made sense.” 

She kept the bakery and cafe in Los Altos, but the Louisville kitchen is not a retail shop. Locals can call and pick up orders, but it survives on shipping nationwide to customers who order from her website. Most of her customers buy gifts for their friends and loved ones because they love to surprise them with sensitive snacks. She’s shipped from Alaska to Hawaii. 

She admits gluten-free products are everywhere now, and even products that serve as many restrictions as she does are somewhat common. But she enjoys the challenge of making unique treats while meeting all the guidelines. She uses bits of dozens of recipes and pieces them back together and experiments with temperatures and moisture levels until she’s satisfied. She just made an angel-food cake by request from a husband whose wife missed it, even though she believes in her robust offerings and can’t do many special requests anymore. She loved experimenting with it so much she gave it to him for free. 

“I’m intrigued by the chemistry of it,” Hu said. “I mean, if you’re gluten-free, aren’t you tired of vanilla and chocolate?” 

Instead, she offers strawberry meringue kisses, tea and spicy chocolate cookies, along with the more traditional chocolate-chip cookies and nut chocolate brownies. 

She draws on her world experience and knows what goodies are supposed to taste like, she said. 

“So if it doesn’t pass my own taste test,” she said, “I won’t sell it.” 

This is why she calls her bakery Sweet Diplomacy. It’s a chance for her to introduce customers to tastes around the world without leaving anyone out. In her “Diplomatic Box,” she takes you to Kyoto, Japan. She also has a dinner party once a month with the same concept. She has a monthly subscription to boxes that share tastes in all the places she’s lived. She hopes to share some of those ideas on her YouTube channel—she planned to release her first episode last month. 

“I want to bring people to the table to celebrate world flavors,” she said, “and inclusive tastes.” 

 In this way, she said, she’s selling a philosophy, and not just cupcakes. 

Melody Hu operatess Sweet Diplomacy in Louisville, a bakery for special diets including treats free of gluten, nuts, animal products, sugar and dairy.

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