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Katie Parkins is not your average 14-year-old. After finding out she was allergic to tree nuts, fish and shellfish at a young age, she began taking strides to create awareness on the subject, ultimately founding MyTealTicket. MyTealTicket is a form she created to bring when dining out to help ensure people’s allergies are not forgotten, allowing them to eat out with ease. We chatted with Katie about managing her food allergies, the future of MyTealTicket, and what it’s like to start a business at such a young age.
When did you first find out you had food allergies?
I first found out that I had food allergies when I was almost three years old.
What has it been like to manage food allergies as a young teen?
Living with food allergies is challenging, no matter your age. For example, every time I go to a party, I always have to bring my own food because I am not sure if the food at the party is safe or has come into contact with my allergens.
I also had to become responsible very quickly, as my life depends on whether or not I choose to eat a food item. I remember, when I was four, my mom gave me a package of bacon and told me that I was going to have to eventually learn how to read ingredient lists. Overall, having food allergies has taught me to be assertive and to stand up for myself and causes I feel strongly about. If it were not for food allergies, I would definitely not be the same person that I am today.
How did you first come up with the idea for MyTealTicket?
Dining out has always been a challenge. I needed to find a way to safeguard my meal and ensure that my allergy information would be accurately delivered to the chef.
How did you turn it into a real business?
MyTealTicket started out on the back of a blue “thank you” note with the allergens written down in sharpie. I continued designing the ticket and transferred the idea to paper. I then met with a website designer, and we created the first version of MyTealTicket. On July 27th, 2017, MyTealTicket was launched. Since the launch, I have received wonderful feedback encouraging the creation of a spanish version of MyTealTicket. Additionally, feedback prompted the newest MyTealTicket updates, which were the addition of sesame, and the replacement of gluten with wheat.
You were only 13-years-old when you founded MyTealTicket. What are some advantages your age brings to the company?
I believe that it is easier to connect with people at this age. When you are a teenager, you can relate to both adults and children, as you are in the middle of both age groups. Additionally, teenagers are the future of this country. It is important to share your opinions no matter your age, especially when it can improve perspective in the present and future.
Part of MyTealTicket’s proceeds go to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). What made you decide to donate part of the proceeds?
FARE has been such a helpful organization to my family over the years through education about food allergies or providing resources and support. It is incredible to be connected to them. I had the honor of presenting MyTealTicket at the FARE Teen Summit in both Milwaukee, WI and Newport Beach, CA. As I continued to work on MyTealTicket, FARE expressed an interest in helping raise awareness about my product. It is such a privilege to donate to FARE and help continue to further the research toward finding a cure for food allergies.
Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 13-19. What is one thing you think everyone should know about allergies, during this important week?
I want everyone to know that all food allergies are different and food allergy reactions can vary. It is important to listen to people with food allergies and learn about their experiences and their personal reactions that may occur. Readers who wish to get involved with FARE and the food allergy community can visit FARE’s website to find information about food allergies, how to educate people in their community, and where they can donate to support the research to find a cure.
When you’re not working, what hobbies do you enjoy?
I am in my school’s show choir and I am a counselor-in-training at a summer camp, which is one of my favorite places to be.
What piece of advice do you have for people with food allergies?
The main piece of advice that I have for parents or children with food allergies is to always always always advocate for yourself. Let your voice be heard. Because when more people know about food allergies, the easier our food allergy journey will become.
What plans do you have for your company’s future?
My main goal with MyTealTicket is to spread awareness about food allergies. It would be incredible if MyTealTicket were used by restaurants and more and more people, but my main focus is on raising awareness.