Just a few weeks ago, 6-year-old Isaac Estes was able to order food from a restaurant for the first time and enjoy his meal without worrying his allergies would put him in danger.
Earlier this month, Isaac went on vacation to Fort Walton, Florida, with his family. While there, Holly Garrett, Isaac’s mother, learned about LuLu’s, a restaurant about 30 minutes away in Destin, Florida, that caters to customers with food allergies. After calling LuLu’s (a project from singer Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy), a manager assured Garrett the restaurant would be able to handle Isaac’s life-threatening allergies to nuts (both peanut and tree), dairy and eggs.
At LuLu’s, Isaac was able to eat tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole, a salad and grilled chicken tenders with rice. Garrett told HuffPost when the chips and salsa first arrived at the table, Isaac was hesitant.
“Isaac looked at me like, ‘Is this OK?’” she said. “He didn’t dig right in.”
Once his mom gave the OK, he enjoyed for the first time the experience of ordering and eating at a restaurant.
“That look on his face was like, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done,’” Garrett told HuffPost.
Garrett and her family rarely go out to restaurants because of Isaac’s food allergies. When they do, she cooks something for Isaac at home before they leave and brings it with her to the restaurant.
“It’s not fun and it feels unfair,” she said.
Their night at LuLu’s marked such a celebration for Isaac that Garrett shared the moment on the restaurant’s Facebook page to thank them for helping her son.
“On the way home from our trip, Isaac said, with certainty, the best part of his week vacation at the beach was eating at LuLu’s,” she wrote in her post. “Thank you from the bottom of my worried mother heart for giving him this experience.”
Both of LuLu’s locations in Destin and Gulf Shores, Alabama, have a separate allergy menu that offer customers options that are free of dairy, egg, gluten, shellfish, soy and seafood. Gabrielle Barnett, who does marketing for LuLu’s, confirmed to HuffPost that the new location in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, will also have the special menu.
Barnett told HuffPost when customers alert the staff that someone in their group has a food allergy, the restaurant’s manager assists with the order by relaying it to the kitchen, ensuring it’s cooked in a separate station and delivering the finished food to guests.
“We do this to prevent any cross contact at any step of the order,” Barnett said. “We have been evolving this process over the last 10 years, when our allergy program was started. We feel that it’s important for guests with allergies to be able to have the same experience as any other of our guests.”
On Garrett’s Facebook post, which has racked up more than 24,000 reactions as of Wednesday, LuLu’s thanked her for sharing her story.
“Thank you for sharing your experience with us,” the restaurant wrote in a comment. “It thrills us to see your son so happy!”
Garrett told HuffPost she’s hoping her post’s viral popularity will convince other restaurants ― especially places near her family’s home about 30 minutes away from Nashville ― to be more accommodating.
“Nothing would make us happier that ― if it can’t be LuLu’s ― somebody take it as seriously as they take it.”