Pretty much everything Sidney and Steve Price did revolved around food.
“Our whole life was eating and drinking, enjoying meals with family and friends,” Sidney says.
And then their son Brixton was born.
He was a preemie, a rashy baby. But it wasn’t until he was 10 months old that Sidney and Steve found themselves at the hospital, their baby engulfed in welts. Tests showed a severe milk allergy.
Then a few months later, Sidney made Brixton toast with cashew butter and his throat started swelling.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, is he going to stop breathing?’ ” she recounts.
Another sprint to the hospital, another test – and now he was severely allergic to cashews.
Shortly after that, she gave him some chicken that had been marinated in Dijon mustard.
“He took one bite, spit it out, and said, ‘Mommy, my teeth feel funny.’ The hair on back of my neck stood up.”
Mustard is hiding in everything, by the way – barbecue sauce, pickles, ketchup – often under the vague catchall “seasonings.”
“That dreaded word,” she says.
Brixton is 4 now and officially anaphylactic (his throat will close up) to milk, goats milk, mustard seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, brazil nuts and pistachios.
The couple’s younger son Aceyn is 2 1/2. He was not a rashy baby. The couple high-fived each other every time they fed him something new and he didn’t stop breathing.
The day he turned 1, though, they gave him a piece of birthday cake. An hour later they heard a weird cough on the baby monitor. By the time they got to his crib he was projectile vomiting, “like ‘The Exorcist,’” Sidney says.
Turns out he is severely allergic to eggs.
“Everything about our life has been turned upside down,” Sidney says.
Steve, it should be noted, is a co-owner of the Costa Mesa-based Lazy Dog restaurant chain, which is one reason their lives revolved around food more than, say, the average family. But suddenly the simple pleasure of eating in a restaurant, sharing food with family and friends, seemed scary, dangerous even.
“It’s terrifying,” Sidney says. “The amount of things these foods are in would blow your mind; dental products, taco seasoning — there’s milk in taco seasoning! Your head is just swirling. Can he touch this or will he die?”
Sidney and Steve sometimes hired a babysitter so they could sneak out and binge on forbidden ice cream or macaroni and cheese. But the kids never accompanied them to a restaurant. Until Jan. 3. That’s the day Sidney opened Noble Bird Rotisserie in the new 2ND & PCH shopping center in Long Beach near their Belmont Shore house.
Noble Bird is free of milk, peanuts, fish, shellfish and tree nuts. And if you are allergic to some other sort of food, you just have to look at the menu to see if it is lurking, as ingredients for each item are listed.
“This isn’t the Holy Grail for all those with allergies,” Sidney says. “I know everyone has a different level of comfort/exposure (soy, for instance, is on the premises) so it is really difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all answer, but we are fully transparent with the ingredients we use. I treat each allergy inquiry as I would hope someone would reply to me.”
The staff is required to complete food allergy training, and there is a stringent sanitation protocol, including apron changes, to prevent cross-contamination.
The restaurant, which can be described as “fast polished casual,” offers salads, sandwiches and plates that are centered around pasture-raised roasted chickens (from a small farm in Murrieta) and locally sourced veggies. Lactose-free local beer (from Long Beach and San Pedro) and wine are on the menu.
“It’s amazing to have a restaurant committed to a transparent menu,” said Lisa Kammel, who was there last week – for the fifth time since it opened six days earlier. Kammel’s teen daughter Cooper is anaphylactic to tree nuts, which means her throat would close up if she ate one. “Eating out is putting our daughter at risk at first bite. I can let her go here without me. I know she’ll have a safe meal.”
One in 13 kids, or roughly two kids in every classroom in the country, has a food allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And food allergies are rising even among adults.
“We needed a safe place to eat,” Sidney says. “We’re not vegan, We’re not paleo. We’re not gluten-free. All these things the world is labeling now; we don’t fit into one of these boxes.”
At the same time, if anyone needs a night off from cooking it’s the mom of the allergy kid.
“My kids do not eat unless I make it. I make meals three times a day. As a mother, it’s exhausting,” Sidney said.
If the Price family travels, it is with a bag of their own pots and pans and hot plates. Even for family holiday gatherings, she packs meals at home to bring along.
“There’s lot of cousins, touching toys, touching each other,” Sidney says. “We have to leave before dinner time. So we stop at the nearest park on the way home and eat a picnic. It’s incredibly isolating.”
A couple nights after the grand opening, Steve and Sidney brought their boys to dine at the restaurant that they had inspired.
Brixton got all dressed up for the occasion, wearing his Mickey Mouse ears. Aceyn was bouncing up and down in his chair.
“They were so excited,” Sidney says. “They call Noble Bird ‘the new safe restaurant.’”
Both boys ordered the chicken plate with rotisserie potatoes and fruit.
Neither Steve nor Sidney ate, they just watched.
“When we got home we both had a good cry,” Sidney says. “We thought, ‘Okay, this is why we’re doing this.’”