Gluten-Free Good Neighbors: Just Ask Josh - INTERVIEW
blog by Julia Jornsay-Silverberg • July 11, 2013 @ 11:46am
Following a gluten-free diet isn’t easy. Gluten is all around us; it’s in the doughnuts your co-worker brought into the office this morning, it’s in the glue on the envelope you just licked, it’s hidden in the dressing of your favorite salad.
Well, have no fear. I’m here to provide you with a monthly breakdown of gluten-free options in Buffalo. Be it a brand, restaurant or even a compilation of heartwarming stories, I’ll be providing you with the inside scoop on what to buy and where to go for quality gluten-free eats.
To kick off this series, I wanted to feature a local small-business owner who has mastered two gluten-free products often loved and coveted: chocolate chip cookies and brownies.
Julie Reinstein, president of Just Ask Josh Gluten-Free Baked Goods, wears many hats. Reinstein is a small-business owner, full-time mother and a part-time physical therapist.
Just Ask Josh Gluten-Free Baked Goods was established in 2009 as a home-processing business approximately seven years after Reinstein’s son Joshua was diagnosed with Celiac at age 2. Upon his diagnosis, Reinstein embarked on a mission to provide Josh with treats that he could eat, share and enjoy.
“I never thought I’d end up selling my products. I just love to bake and cook and once Josh was diagnosed, I worked hard to provide him with delicious treats that everyone could enjoy whether or not they followed the gluten-free diet,” said Reinstein.
The encouragement from Reinstein’s friends and family to sell her gluten-free baked goods was so overwhelming that she left a successful career as a physical therapist to focus on providing the gluten-free community with more options for baked goods.
“My mission is to make sweet treats that everyone can eat. I want to provide a great tasting product to the gluten-free community that is safe, convenient and affordable,” said Reinstein.
Coming from a medical background, Reinstein was new to the world of business and was blown away by the complexities of starting her own company. She started small by doing home processing, but was quickly convinced by her kids, friends and family to take her business to the next level.
“I have a passion for helping others. If I can make someone else’s life sweeter or easier, I have done my job.” said Reinstein.
By 2010, Reinstein had located a manufacturer with strict gluten-free policies in place. After finalizing the necessary details with her manufacturer for recipe development, GF & OU Kosher certifications and freezing and packaging of the products, Reinstein started networking to get exposure for her name and brand.
Finally in 2012, Reinstein’s chocolate chip cookies and brownies became available online and in the frozen-food aisles of the following Buffalo-based grocery stores:
— Dessert Deli (716 Maple Rd, Buffalo)
— Dash’s Markets (499 West Klein Rd, East Amherst)
— Lexington Co-Op (807 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo)
— Tops Friendly Markets:
— Lockport Location (5827 S Transit Rd, Lockport)
— Lewiston Location (906 Center St, Lewiston)
— Orchard Fresh (4050 North Buffalo Rd, Orchard Park)
— Clarence Deli (10633 Main St, Clarence)
Since starting the business, Reinstein’s youngest daughter has also been diagnosed with Celiac, further fueling Reinstein’s passion.
“Food is so social; it connects people and brings them together,” said Reinstein. One of Reinstein’s motivators behind starting the business was that she wanted her kids to feel comfortable eating and sharing gluten-free treats with friends without embarrassment.
“I didn’t want my kids feeling left out due to dietary restrictions,” she said.
Reinstein currently focuses on just two products: fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies. The fudge brownies are pre-cooked so you can just slice and serve. The chocolate chip cookies, a personal favorite because of my soft-spot for freshly baked desserts, come as 12 large, frozen balls of cookie dough to be baked fresh in the oven. Both products are exceptional; they are delicious, moist, fluffy and light, which is hard to find when it comes to gluten-free baked goods which typically tend to be dense, dry and crumbly.
Although Reinstein has spent years experimenting with various recipes, she is strategic about what products she introduces to the market. It took her years to perfect these two simple gluten-free delicacies (dare I say necessities) that few others have mastered. Reinstein is currently working on an oatmeal raisin cookie which is still in the development phase but is expected to arrive in stores by the end of the year.
Just Ask Josh Gluten-Free Baked Goods are sold at $12.99 per box. That comes down to around $1 per cookie, which is one hell of a bargain for gluten-free consumers who typically spend approximately 70 percent more on GF baked goods.
When asked how she determined the price, Reinstein remarked, “As a mother and shopper for two children with Celiac, I know how expensive gluten-free products can be. I am very sensitive to cost because I’m a consumer. I want my product to sell, but most importantly, I want my customers to feel like they’re getting a high-quality product for a good value.”
To build a loyal customer base, Reinstein is increasingly active in Western New York. “I try to have at least one tasting at a local grocery store per week,” she said.
Just last week Reinstein did a tasting at Tops Markets in Lockport and gushed about the experience. “I love doing tastings and providing samples to the local community. Parents are so thrilled that their kids can sample something in a grocery store which is truly a rare opportunity for someone with Celiac.”
You can find Reinstein at a few upcoming tastings this month. First she’ll spend from noon to 4 p.m. on July 28 at Orchard Fresh. Then she’ll be at Dash’s from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 30 and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug 10.
For Julie Reinstein, Just Ask Josh Gluten-Free Baked Goods isn’t as much a business as it is an opportunity for her to share her story and hear the stories of others.
“It’s more than just a cookie or a brownie. It’s a safe product; it’s convenient, affordable and easy. It puts smiles on people’s faces and is something they can share and enjoy with a friend, family member or colleague.”
“Gluten-Free Good Neighbors” is a blog series written by The Buffalo News’ digital project coordinator Julia Jornsay-Silverberg, who has Celiac and feels passionately about educating the local community about how to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle in Buffalo. Be sure to check back on the second Thursday of every month for more tips, trends and stories.
[Header photo courtesy of Flickr / thepinkpeppercorn ]