Cheese is often the most difficult ingredient to give up when saying goodbye to dairy, but that transition is a lot easier once you try the Honest Stand‘s wares. These vegan and Paleo “cheese” sauces come in four varieties (more are on the way)—alfredo, blue, nacho, and smoked—and are free of gluten, soy, dairy, and yeast. In fact, founders of the Denver-based company, Alexandra Carone and Jeremy Day, initially started making the allergen-friendly sauces to satisfy their own insatiable cheese cravings. We caught up with Carone to chat about her inspiration and what’s next for the popular gourmet brand.

Jeremy Day (left) and Alexandra Carone (right)

5280: How did your favorite cheese sauce recipe become a full-time business?

AC: I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2010, and like many folks with Celiac, discovered I was also allergic to one of the main proteins in dairy. Together, my mom and I created a totally dairy-free, gluten-free sauce that was great for making mac and cheese and that tasted seriously good. The base is made with potatoes, cashews, onions, and carrots. When I realized my partner Jeremy couldn’t tell the difference between my mac n’ cheese and its dairy counterpart, I knew I was onto something. Jeremy and I were in grad school, and it was summer so there wasn’t a ton going on. We were super inspired by farmer’s markets, so we just tried selling the sauce [at local farmer’s markets] to see what the reaction would be. We ended up selling out every time, and then independent grocery stores started reaching out because they wanted to carry the product. We founded the Honest Stand in May 2014, halfway through our degree programs, and have since graduated with a master’s in social work (me) and an international MBA (Jeremy).

What is the best part about living in and owning a natural foods company in Colorado?

AC: We live in the Silicon Valley of natural foods. There are a plethora of mentors in the food space willing to work with emerging brands, and we definitely wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for those folks; shout out to the founders of Cappello’s, Boulder Organic, and Missy J’s. Established companies exhibit so much generosity by mentoring younger companies, and folks in the industry are always sharing resources. It’s unique to have such a collaborative environment.

What has been some of the best positive feedback you’ve received?

AC: Our demonstrations are met with rave reviews, and we are thrilled that people love our products. My favorite comment is that our sauces aren’t only “great for being vegan-, dairy-, or gluten-free,” but that they are just great. We love offering a solution for individuals, families, and couples so everyone can enjoy their meals while investing in their health.

Other than using the sauces to whip up a batch of gluten-free mac and cheese, what is your favorite way to eat them?

AC: I frequently have big plans for a jar of our sauce, only to end up finishing the whole thing with a bag of tortilla chips before I even get to cooking. When I do make it all the way to a meal, I love making cheese bread with our alfredo sauce, chili with our smoked sauce, and “cowboy” queso with our nacho sauce. The cowboy queso is vegetarian “beef” crumbles with chopped onion and tomato mixed with the nacho sauce.

What’s next for the Honest Stand?

AC: We are excited to announce that we will be rolling out five new flavors [cheddar, garlic-parmesan, smoked cheddar, and mild and spicy versions of nacho] in dip-able containers in March. Please keep an eye out at local Natural Grocers and Whole Foods for the roll out.