Each of us has a different story leading them to being gluten free. This is mine.....so grab a nice cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa with your favorite gf treat and curl up in a comfy spot....this is a little long but a good read!
I'm sitting here contemplating on where to start with this. It's a long story, after all, I'm not a spring chicken here in my mid 40's! :)
As a baby and child I always had "tummy troubles" and I was told that I was allergic to wheat and soy. This was waaaaay back in the 1970's when gluten free food was not available and Celiac was pretty much unknown or just ignored. My poor mom had to try to read the ingredient labels and back then, even those were not real descriptive. It took her hours to grocery shop! And there was no way to get a wheat free lunch at school. Even to bring my own lunch was hard. So we pretty much gave up on the idea of trying to be wheat and soy free. However, I remained very petite and was put on a "milkshake a day" diet to try to get me to gain weight (it didn't work) and the "tummy troubles" persisted..
As a teenager I ate all the things teens eat: pizza, cake, bread....all of it. I was still having stomach issues, I was a late bloomer, I was sick ALOT, and was still very petite and underweight.
I went onto adulthood with the same stomach issues, constantly eating Tums and Pepcid. My skin was broke out, I had no energy (even less after I ate and it felt like I was not absorbing ANY nutrients from the food and further testing showed I did have multiple vitamin deficiencies), my gut was always bloated (and this looks weird on a 5'3" tall 110 pound lady! I was asked if I was pregnant many times), my joints hurt, my intestines pretty much stopped moving, I had brain fog, depression, anxiety, my muscles hurt, I had itchy dry areas on my skin, blisters in my mouth, some days I was not coordinated at all, memory issues, and I caught every bug out there....constantly sick! I baffled the doctors. I went to many specialists at Iowa City Hospitals for years where I was "diagnosed" with RA, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, IBS, multiple food allergies, suspicion of MS....you name it....I probably had it! HOWEVER: NONE of the tests were real conclusive except the food allergy ones. They were pretty much just guessing and had me on a TON of meds!
Then in 2011 I was at my wits end. I couldn't take it anymore SOMETHING was wrong and it WASN'T in my head....so I went to Mayo in Rochester. In 1 visit I was told to remove wheat, rye, barely, and oats from my diet. LITERALLY the next day I felt like a different person! I could think better, I wasn't in as much pain. This was a complete day and night difference! AND I WAS MAD! I did NOT want this to be a gluten issue like they thought.....but it was so clear that it was.
I went back a few months later for more blood tests. This time it showed my immune system to be normal for the first time EVER, I did not have Fibromyalgia, Lupus, MS, IBS, or anything else they suspected before. My skin was clear and no more itchy spots. I was taken off all the meds I was on except for allergy ones. Then looking back through my records, we found a biopsy from 1982, that if done today, would HIGHLY suggest Celiac. But back then, they really didn't know much about it. So I have lived my whole life with this. Fighting it, ignoring it, then finally accepting it. (Although I am still mad I have this!) Today I do not have any symptoms mentioned above. The depression and anxiety went away almost immediately, my intestines came back to life. All I have now is just arthritis (yay me!)
So 2011 was a pivotal year. I HAD to be gluten free and partially dairy free. This was NOT fun!! I felt like my life was over. Should I just stay home and never do anything again? Should I just eat sticks and rocks...were those gluten free?? How will I vacation? Will I have to "brown bag" every wedding, funeral, graduation, and family event for the rest of my life?!?! My "all you can eat" buffets are no longer fun and too dangerous. Now going to a restaurant is a MAJOR ordeal....ask for a gluten free menu, ask for manager to talk to them to make sure they understand how this affects me and to keep my food safe, then get my food and have to send it back AND ask for a WHOLE NEW PLATE because they had something with gluten on it (gravy, Au Juice, croutons on the salad....when I clearly explained I can't have any of this....you all know, you've been through this too!), get my food back after everyone is done eating.....sigh.....it just goes on and this is life now!
Thankfully restaurants are getting better about learning how to prepare gluten free meals for us. (Check out the "Our Locations" tab to see which restaurants carry our items.) If I get the SMALLEST amount of gluten, and I mean 1 bite in, literally 1 bite! I will bloat IMMEDIATELY! I mean I look 9 months pregnant bloat, unbutton the pants, hard to breath, fat right now, roll me out of this restaurant..... bloated! Not fun! That is how sensitive I am. My gluten free friends always make me eat the food first to "test" it to see if it is safe...real nice friends...they call me the "Gluten Barometer"!....lol!
So all this "gf food stuff" lead me to try boxed mixes. They were ok, but lacked that special "something". I wanted food that tasted like what I remember it tasting like. Sweet treats like Grandma used to make, only gluten free. AND I wanted my wheat eating friends to eat it too AND enjoy it! So I started developing my recipes.
First I tried "all purpose mixes" that were supposed to be equal gf flour to regular wheat based recipes.....ummmmmmmm.......HA! NOPE! (And I bet some of you are laughing right now because you tried that and ended up with a hot mess too!)
Then I tried different gluten free rice flours. I found out you can not have just 1 flour in a recipe AND you need something called Xanthan or some other gum or binder. I tell you I threw some failed recipes out the window for the birds and they wouldn't even eat it! That is a true story! The crows came down, took a look at it, poked at it, and flew off cawing like crazy as if to warn every other bird and critter to stay away from that gf disaster!
Then I got real scientific and started to research gf flours, starches, binders, and such. I got out my gram scale, learned how to properly measure gf ingredients (NEVER SCOOP, AWLAYS Spoon lightly and level), tried a few recipes and WA-LA! I had some success!
But still I wasn't happy. It took me 1 year to develop my first cake recipe, 14 months to develop my bread/hamburger bun recipe, and 2 years to develop my cinnamon roll recipe! Lots of blood, sweat, tears, and money went into these recipes! I still evolve my recipes today!
Since I was a full time Realtor, I started taking gf treats to my office. Clients coming in loved them. No one realized they were gf until I told them! The left overs I took up and down Main Street to other businesses to share. I was told I should open a bakery. I thought, "No way, I do not have time for that!"
However, in October of 2014 I decided to pursue this hobby since by now I was getting a few orders here and there. I also did a Christmas vendor event. Well between October 2014 and December 2014 I sold 3200 cupcakes! WHAT THE HECK WAS GOING ON?!?!? Could there really be a market for this?
I continued on with real estate and in May of 2015 I partnered with a bakery who put my items in 2 of their locations. We delivered twice a week and pretty much each week was a sell out. I was baking out of my licensed home kitchen. By August of 2015 I had out grown my home license and had to move into a commercial building with a Food Processing Plant license. (A WHAT license???? A plant license???) The bakery grew quite quickly and I had 2 employees and 1 delivery driver. However, by December of 2015, I sadly retired from real estate. (Mold allergies forced me to make that decision).
In January of 2016 I restructured my business model to go from retail to wholesale (as I was no longer in the bakery's two locations that I started out in) and by now I had grocery stores and restaurants asking for my items. I got the help of the UNI Small Business Association and my home towns Economic Development Board.
March of 2016 we had our first grocery store delivery. What an exciting day! It was Fareway in my home town. Then a week later we had our 2nd store, Charles City Hy-Vee....then a week later the 3rd store, Hy Vee on University Ave in Waterloo, then a few coffee shops and then just 5 months later....several stores, restaurants, and colleges all across Iowa! Grocery stores are calling me to get the New Beginnings Gluten Free Bakery line in....I can hardly believe it! We grow by at least 3-4 new locations a month!
Other milestones in 2016 were in May the Lt. Govenor of Iowa choose my bakery for her visit to New Hampton. You could imagine the shock I got when I received that phone call....who would have thought!! It was so neat! TONS of her people were there as well as our town officials.
Also in May I was encouraged by the UNI SBA and my hometown economic board to enter a contest called the Food Innovation Challenge. I wasn't going to do it. I didn't have time to enter it and I thought "who am I to try to enter this Midwest contest!?" It was for bakery's, condiment makers, and bar makers from 10 states in the Midwest. Well the last day to enter I got my entry in at 11:58pm and it was due at 11:59pm....lol....I just couldn't ignore the stirring in my gut to enter! It was a 3 hour process to enter. We had to input our business plan and answer tons of questions. Then I got a call in June that I was chosen as a top 10 semi finalist!!! (SERIOUSLY?!?!) So my husband and I went to Decatur, IL for this round of the contest. We then made it into the top 3 and had to go back in August to do a "Shark Tank Style" business pitch and give the judges samples of our Hot Fudge Sundae cupcake and low and behold, we got 3rd place! (YAY!) Out of the whole Midwest and I was the only gluten free baker! I couldn't believe it and still look back on that in awe! Getting 3rd place changed the future of my bakery forever!
Then in July the Main Street Iowa Association choose my bakery to come visit for "Main Street Business Week". That was a lot of fun!
In August I had a Senator who was running to keep her seat, do a commercial at my bakery. That was interesting! I was also accepted into the EDC of Iowa program called the Small Business Accelerator. They are taking my hand and helping me to grow Sweet Freedom Gluten Free Bakery to where I want it to be. They see this going national! For now, I'm just happy to keep growing in Iowa and the Midwest!
I have had several school class tours come to the bakery, I have spoken at Rotary about the bakery, I spoke at the high school, the New Hampton Sorority paid a visit and took a tour.
I now have 5 employees, 1 delivery driver, am with 2 food distributors and we are growing every day!
We are in the process of new labeling, getting UPC and bar codes, and a nutrition facts panel on all our items! (PHEW! Is that ever ALOT of work! And who knew UPC codes actually cost money!)
Although, I have to give credit where credit is due....YOU! Yes. YOU did all of this! You buy the product, you tell your friends, you request my items at your stores....without you NONE of this would be possible! My windowsill is full of cards I have received in the mail thanking me for having this bakery. I have received tons of Facebook messages and emails with the same sentiments. I want you to know, I keep each and every one of those and I re read them when the going gets tough and believe me, it gets tough as I learn how to grow this business! So thank you for all you do to support the bakery! It never goes un-noticed!
I am so excited to see what is next for New Beginnings Gluten Free Bakery! Thank you for reading my very long story. I hope in someway it has helped or encouraged you!
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