Gluten-Free Good Neighbors: Deenie Bakes, Simply Sweet - INTERVIEWS
blog by Julia Jornsay-Silverberg • February 21, 2014 @ 9:46am
The quantity and variety of gluten-free products increases with each passing day.
According to the Gluten-Free Agency, sales in the gluten-free category are expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2015, and over 15 percent of consumers eat gluten-free as part of a healthy lifestyle, not just due to dietary restrictions.
The production of gluten-free foods is becoming more commonplace as the gluten-free diet becomes increasingly trendy.
Mixed feelings abound in regard to the gluten-free diet fad, especially among those who suffer from Celiac disease, as the diet’s trendiness has both disadvantaged and benefited those forced to adhere to the gluten-free diet.
On the downside, the gluten-free trend has led some retailers to introduce sub-par products into the market just to ensure they don’t miss the opportunity to attract an expanding group of consumers.
On the upside, the demand for gluten-free products is higher than ever which has led to a wide selection of high-quality products to choose from. It can even be seen in our own backyard, as Buffalo boasts an abundance of restaurants both knowledgeable and accommodating of the gluten-free diet.
Similarly, through the quality of their products, local start-ups are beginning to prove that when it comes to gluten-free, there’s no need to settle.
Gluten free doesn’t have to mean anything other than free of gluten.
While running errands around Buffalo last weekend, I discovered two start-ups sweetening the community by baking a wide variety of gluten-free delicacies that can be found at local markets.
I came across Deenie Bakes while shopping in the Lexington Co-Op. After purchasing and devouring a big, fluffy loaf of Deenie Bakes bread, I made it my mission to speak to the brains behind the gluten-free delicacy, owner Christine Goerss-Barton.
During a visit to Spot Coffee, I discovered Simply Sweet Of WNY. Posted up right by the counter, the basket of gluten-free cookies sang to me and I ended up inhaling an oatmeal cookie before my coffee was ready.
I chatted with Christine Goerss-Barton of Deenie Bakes and Cindy Slomovitz of Simply Sweet of WNY to find out how they got started, what products they make and where you can go to indulge in the plethora of gluten-free sweets they provide.
Buffalo.com: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. As you can see from Gluten-Free Good Neighbors, I’m a big advocate for the gluten-free community so I’m excited to have the chance to learn more about your business.
Deenie Bakes: It’s my pleasure! Thanks for reaching out!
Simply Sweet: My pleasure, Julia. I actually went online and read your posts and learned about some new places which I have never heard about, like Merge! I love learning about new gluten-free businesses, so it’s been great to read your series.
BDC: So, my first question is pretty obvious: do you personally suffer from Celiac disease?
DB: I would say that I’m gluten-intolerant.
My Celiac was self-diagnosed when I was in college. I kept missing classes due to debilitating stomach pains and finally got fed up with it. I started keeping a food diary but couldn’t figure out why peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were making me sick.
Finally, my dad suggested (after reading an article about Celiac) that maybe it was the bread, so I cut it out of my diet and have felt great ever since. I was never diagnosed with Celiac by a doctor, so I say that I’m gluten-intolerant.
SS: I found out that I was gluten-intolerant when I came across an article in a women’s health and cooking magazine.
Since I’m a foodie, I picked it up and immediately was like “that’s me, I have those symptoms.” I started following the diet and within 10 days of eliminating gluten from my diet, I started feeling better. I haven’t eaten gluten for the last six years.
BDC: Since Celiac is an auto-immune disease, everyone’s symptoms manifest themselves differently.
I personally suffer from debilitating stomach pain (like someone is stabbing my lower abdomen,) but my mom just gets a runny nose. How do you react when eating gluten?
DB: That’s so funny! I have never met someone with the same symptoms as me! I get that exact type of stomach pain. It’s like a knife inside your stomach.
SS: It’s so true! I think that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to diagnose…because everyone responds differently.
I started having some intestinal issues, bad joint pain and dental issues as well. I wasn’t feeling well and when I started researching the symptoms, I saw that they tied together. Once I stopped eating gluten, the problems disappeared. I no longer had joint pain and literally felt 10 years younger!
BDC: Wow. It’s always interesting for me to her how differently people react despite having the same intolerance. But onto more positive things like your business; when did you start, and why?
DB: I started playing around in the kitchen making gluten-free treats about eight years ago. I was an art major in college, so I like making things with my hands and being creative.
I decided early on that I didn’t want to work at something I wasn’t in love with. A lot of people work so that they can retire and do what they love. I didn’t want to wait around for later to do what I love; I wanted to do it now.
My gluten-intolerance and my strong interest in nutrition made me want to start a business to engage with others and spread awareness and discussion about where our food comes from.
SS: I started my business about one year ago. I’m of Polish descent so everything revolves around food; it’s all, “What are you going to make and bring for the family dinner?”
I also love to cook, so after I had a pity party for myself after coming home from Wegmans and trying the gluten-free pre-made products, I told myself there’s got to be a way to do this.
I started researching, reading, baking and testing recipes. Through the years, I got good at it. I would cook for friends and family and nobody would know that it was gluten-free.
My husband finally convinced me to take things to the next level. He’s a business owner. He has a business background so he handles the business and I do the baking. I felt like just because we have to eat this way, we shouldn’t be deprived.
BDC: I couldn’t agree more. So, would you say that is your mission?
DB: I don’t really have a mission statement, but I guess I’d say that my mission is to make treats that people can indulge in using only ingredients that I would use myself. I like to incorporate the spirit of local wherever and whenever I can, so I only use ingredients that are both healthy and local.
For example, I only use pasture-raised eggs which I get from Farmers and Artisans egg share. I also get my milk straight from Farmers and Artisans.
My focus is on nutrition, so I don’t use any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. I feel strongly that if you’re going to eat treats, it shouldn’t be junk.
SS: I guess I would say that my mission is that I want us (America) to get over the idea that just because something isn’t made with wheat flour, doesn’t mean it can’t taste good.
I want people who need to eat this way to have as tasty a treat as those who don’t have to follow the gluten-free diet. It’s not fair that we have to settle for sub-standard treats.
BDC: Did any specific experience or person serve as the inspiration for you to start your business?
DB: Starting a business was uncharted territory for me; I was nervous to do it and had put it off for some time.
Then in March 2013, I went on a trip to India which was transformational. I saw how people live so simply, surviving off of much less than we do in America. That trip helped me take the plunge and stop worrying about bills.
A friend of mine told me “sometimes you have to leap and trust that the net will appear,” I did just that. I came back from the trip, started recipe testing and in June 2013, I filed for my business certificate!
SS: My inspiration came after starting the diet and trying a few different products in the market.
The first time I ate a gluten-free bagel, I spit it right back out. Not only did it cost $7 for the bag, but it was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. That was all the inspiration I needed; I decided that I’m not settling for this.
Then it was the support of my husband in telling me that my products were good and I could do it.
I think that food is so celebratory; it brings people together. It’s comforting. Look at the weather we’ve been having; why shouldn’t I be able to have a warm piece of cornbread right out of the oven?
That was my inspiration; my love of food and desire to provide other people with good food they can eat.
BDC: You obviously love to cook and eat, so I’ve got to know: what products do you make, and how long did it take to come up with the recipes? I know that with gluten-free baking, recipe creation can be the most time consuming process.
DB: Since I’m an artist, I love to play around in the kitchen. I typically find a recipe I like and then tweak it to make it my own. I’m always looking for new recipes to try to adapt.
SS: I typically start with a basic recipe and tweak it from there to make it gluten-free. I mean, you can’t reinvent the chocolate chip cookie. I find recipes out there and adjust them by adding a flavor or replacing a flour.
The whole science of baking gluten-free is hard because each product reacts differently, so it’s about trial and error.
BDC: Oh, completely. If you read my interview with Kyra Bussanich, you get a good feel for how much effort is required just to make a flour blend.
SS: I just bought her cookbook! It’s wonderful! I made the peanut butter truffle bars; they were like a rice krispy treat with peanut butter cream topping and dark chocolate. It was delicious! Anything with peanut butter is a winner for me.
BDC: So, how many products do you make? Or is it hard to say since you like to play around in the kitchen?
DB: I make a few different products. For the Lexington Co-Op, I make vegan donuts, Twinkies and bread. For Farmers and Artisans, I make bread, coffee cake, cookies (both chocolate chip and spice) and a few different seasonal products.
SS: I have a basic core which includes about about eight different kinds of cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal, cranberry, granola, sugar, peanut butter, a double chocolate chip and a half-and-half cookie which is made by combining a scoop of double chocolate chip cookie dough with a scoop of the peanut butter cookie dough.
So, cookies are my basis. I also make granola, brownies and crumb cake.
BDC: Mmm, I’m getting hungry. Since you’re the chef, I’m curious to know what your personal favorite product is that you make?
DB: My favorite has got to be the sandwich bread. I never found a gluten-free bread that I liked until I made my own.
SS: That’s tough, I have so much. I was thinking about that and I think the hardest thing for me to resist when baking and pulling it out of the oven is my chocolate chip cookies.
I try not to eat them so much because it’s like my waist line—I bake everyday—but they are delicious.
BDC: That sounds great. So, now that I’m starving, where can I go to find your products, locally?
DB: You can buy Deenie Bakes products at the Lexington Co-Op. I started selling my bread there in August when I heard through the grapevine that they were interested in offering fresh gluten-free bread. I also sell my products to Farmers and Artisans; I started selling to them in October or early November 2013.
SS: I have a few different locations that I sell to. I deliver to Spot Coffee’s main kitchen on Hertel, and they distribute it out to their various locations.
I sell my granola at Lexington Co-Op and also sell a variety of products at Farmers and Artisans. I sell a variety of products at Mazurek’s Bakery; the types of products vary by the week but they’re usually always cookies.
Finally, I make treats that I serve at Horsefeathers Winter Market. I’m there every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It has everything from my gluten-free products to meat, cheese, dog treats, fruits, vegetables. It’s a fun thing to do in the city on a Saturday morning.
*Click here for the complete list of Simply Sweet’s locations.
BDC: What would you say is the most popular product? Do you happen to know which one flies off the shelves fastest?
DB: While I thought that the bread would be the most popular, I was surprised to learn that once Lexington Co-Op took on my other two items, the vegan donuts and the homemade Twinkies (or “famous yellow snack cakes” as they are labeled) proved to be even more popular than the bread!
The snack cakes seem to be a real crowd-pleaser. The best comment I’ve gotten is that they’re better than the original Twinkie, and I think it’s a testament to the ingredients I use.
The product is yellow just because of the pasture-raised eggs, not because of food coloring. Even better is that the snack cakes don’t taste gluten-free at all, so it’s something everyone can enjoy.
They were even featured in a gift guide write-up in Artvoice this year!
SS: There’s really no way to know. There were three weeks in a row when I sold out of granola, then the next week I brought extra and nobody bought a bag (chuckles).
It’s different every time. But whatever I’m sampling, I sell out of every time. I’ve found that once people sample it, they’re hooked on it.
BDC: It sounds like things are going really well, which must be very exciting. Do you have any plans to expand to sell in more locations?
DB: I am definitely looking to expand and am hopeful that I’ll be introducing Deenie Bakes to a third location within the upcoming months!
SS: I am hoping to expand in the upcoming months and have contacted a few different stores which I hope to hear back from within the next month.
I also plan to open a Simply Sweet bakery! The exact location is still to be determined, but I can tell you that it will be in the Village of Williamsville.
BDC: That’s a great sign! So, one final question: is there any message or anything you’d like to share with the gluten-free eaters or readers of the blog series about your business?
DB: Along with the deliciousness of quality local and organic ingredients in my goods, the secret (or not-so-secret) ingredient is that they are made with love!
SS: I have so many ideas and things that I want to share with people who have to eat this way.
I mostly want to share that the reason I continue to grow Simply Sweet is to make sure that people who eat gluten free have a great place to come and enjoy delicious baked goods.
It’s clear to see that Christine Goerss-Barton and Cindy Slomovitz, the owners of Deenie Bakes and Simply Sweet, respectively, both feel passionately about providing local gluten-free eaters with treats that are delicious and healthy.
Since my mission for the “Gluten-Free Good Neighbors” blog series was to provide eaters and readers with advice on how to more easily adopt the gluten-free lifestyle, I figured what better way to conclude the series than by featuring two of my favorite gluten-free bakers who feel as passionately as I do about helping provide the local Celiac community with something sweet: be it a treat to eat, advice, information or a recommendation for a new restaurant or brand.
Thank you to all of the individuals, businesses and restaurants around the community who provided me with support and encouragement throughout this blog series. It was a pleasure getting the opportunity to share my knowledge about Celiac and the gluten-free diet.
[Photos: from Simply Sweet: fruit cake, chocolate chip cookies, cake / crisp with frosting drizzle, frosted sugar cookies, mix of packaged treats, cookie tray and cookie cake. From Deenie Bakes: donuts, both photos of bread, twinkie (snack cake).]
“Gluten-Free Good Neighbors” is a blog series written by The Buffalo News’ former digital project coordinator Julia Jornsay-Silverberg, who has Celiac and feels passionately about educating the community about how to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle in Buffalo.