Times are tough these days. The news broadcasts that the economy is improving, but simply looking around, it’s difficult to really see where the improvement is happening. Times are tough for big corporations, but they can be even tougher on the small, independent businesses right there in your hometown.
It’s even more difficult to scrape by at times when your business falls into a certain niche. Like…gluten-free foods.
I’m very fortunate where I live. While the selection of restaurants that offer gluten-free menus are still quite miniscule in the grand scheme of things, there are some businesses out there that are making every attempt they can to draw in the food allergy crowd, specifically the growing number of people who are turning to the gluten-free lifestyle.
There are some dangers there, however. Many of these restaurants aren’t fully trained to handle gluten-free foods properly. They still share equipment. Cross-contamination is very real…and very risky. Some places forget to change their gloves. Some will use the same pasta water they just cooked the regular spaghetti in. Some share skillets, waffle makers, etc…because they don’t know that they need to have dedicated equipment to really ensure the dining safety of their Celiac and gluten intolerant customers.
But, like I said before, I am very fortunate.
Just over a bridge in the city of Louisville, Kentucky…two businesses now hold a very near and dear place in my heart. They are very different…and yet…I frequent them both as much as possible. Their niche…gluten-free foods. Their names: Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, Kentucky’s only allergen-free bakery, and Sweet ’N’ Savory, a food truck that doles out gluten-free crepes of both sweet and savory varieties at many street fairs, festivals, and events.
It seems niche businesses such as these are cropping up in the most unexpected places these days. And if you are someone who has Celiac or a gluten intolerance, then these places can be a godsend. Which is why I encourage everyone to frequent their local gluten-free businesses as often as possible. Running an independent business is tough. Running one that caters to a select group of people can be even tougher. Especially when the food you crank out is often misconstrued as “tasteless” by the non-gluten-free crowd because of the connotation and association gluten-free items on the market sometimes receive.
Labels can be hard to break through…but I think Annie May’s Sweet Cafe and Sweet ’N’ Savory have certainly held their own here in Louisville, Kentucky.
My first dedicated gluten-free experience in Louisville began with Annie May’s Sweet Cafe. It was September…the weekend of my birthday. My roommate agreed that I shouldn’t have to bake my own birthday cake and tracked down this bakery on Frankfort Avenue. She placed an order for an amazing cake (strawberry with chocolate ganache), and we went to pick it up the day of my birthday dinner. While there, we had to get one of the allergen-free doughnuts for the road. I mean…it’s a gluten-free, vegan doughnut. It wasn’t a need. It was a want.
Well, let me tell you, that was one of the most amazing birthday cakes I had ever had…even back when I could eat regular birthday cake. And the doughnuts won me over. Immediately. Since then, my relationship with the owner, Annie May McGill, as well as the Production and Catering Manager, Kenna Nelson, has grown. In fact, I stop in almost every Saturday for their amazing hot breakfast, which they cook to order. I step into the door and they ask me if I’m having my usual, which is the Allergen-Free Vegan Sausage Sandwich with an allergen free cinnamon-sugar doughnut on most days. Unless I happen to come in past the breakfast time, in which case, I get one of their amazing handmade pizzas…with crust that isn’t cracker-thin. It’s perfection.
In fact, everything I have ever purchased from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe has been amazing. I love it so much, I take all my friends there when they are in town. None of them have to eat gluten-free…but none of them have been unhappy with the quality or taste of their food at Annie May’s as well.
And the variety offered at this bakery is amazing. It’s not just cookies, cakes, bars, cupcakes, breads and doughnuts. Every day, the offer a lunch special, ranging from soups, salads, sandwiches, to pizza. All of which is gluten-free. Most of which is also allergen-free.
And on Saturdays, you get your choice of French toast or having one of their amazing breakfast sandwiches. I rave over the gluten-free bread the vegan sausage patty is placed on. Oh, and that gluten-free and vegan sausage patty is brought into Annie May’s from another local food truck called Grind. Local businesses supporting other local businesses. That’s a cycle I can get behind.
That cycle holds true when it comes to my discovery of Sweet ’N’ Savory, the local food truck that specializes in gluten-free crepes. I discovered the existence of this food truck through Annie May’s Facebook page. The following weekend, at a food truck event at a local brewery, I was able to experience the crepes Sweet ‘N’ Savory was churning out to patrons…those who had to eat gluten-free and even those who don’t.
Sweet ‘N’ Savory is owned and operated by Richard and Ashley Giannini, a husband and wife team, who prior to starting up this food truck had worked at Churchill Downs as assistant trainers with the racehorses. Because of their line of work, the two spent a lot of time in New Orleans and developed a love for French food, specifically with crepes. And, to sweeten the deal, this amazing duo decided to make their crepes gluten-free.
Offering both sweet and savory crepes, the Giannini’s stuff their sweet varieties with fresh fruit and dessert-type toppings, such as Nutella and bananas, Strawberries with dark and white chocolate, and the like. The savory versions can be filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables. They source their ingredients from local suppliers as well. And, in addition to their gluten-free crepes, they also offer patrons fresh fruit smoothies as well as homemade gelato.
At that local food truck event, I decided to have dessert for dinner. Not having ever eaten a savory crepe, I went for sweet and ordered their Nutella and banana crepe. I was able to see Richard cook it up right at the window, adding the fresh banana and drizzling it generously with delicious Nutella. He dusted the top of it with a hit of powdered sugar. And my dinner was served. And it was so amazing…that whenever there is an event going on that Sweet ‘N’ Savory will make an appearance, I attempt to make it out to said event so I can get my crepe fix.
For the record, I branched out past the sweet version of their crepes (and I have had three of their sweet offerings thus far) and ordered one of their savory ones recently. The Caprese…and it was mouthwatering good. I no longer fear the savory crepe. In fact, I continue to go back and forth between their sweet offerings and their vegetarian savory options. I check their calendar religiously to make sure I can stop in somewhere and hit them up for one of their delicious crepes.
Sometimes gluten-free goodies can come in the strangest of places. But, I think many local Celiacs and gluten intolerant patrons are thankful to have them around. It means we no longer are stuck eating the gluten-free breakfast/protein bar we carry in our purse when we attend such events. There is something for us…and it is oh, so good!
The problem is…sometimes these niche businesses fall onto harder times because people just don’t know about them, or people are scared to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, or, perhaps, they just can’t see beyond those big box restaurants. The fact remains that these businesses need the support of the locals.
So, if you happen to have your own gem of a business that caters to your gluten-free needs, I encourage you to go there and go their often. Buy lunch or dinner from them. Have them box up some of their goodies for you to take home and enjoy at your leisure. I have Annie May’s allergen-free hamburger buns in my freezer as we speak. And if you have such businesses in your backyard or nearby, take people there. Introduce them to the fantastic food that these businesses and the people behind them are turning out.
It’s important to support small local businesses. It’s very important to support the businesses that take that extra step to cater to special needs in people’s diets.
Like I said…I’m very lucky. I have places like Annie May’s Sweet Cafe and Sweet ‘N’ Savory in my backyard. Just a short drive away. Search your area…see if hidden gems such as this exist. And if so…go and give them a try. Perhaps you have a favorite go-to gluten-free bakery or business. I encourage you to frequent them often. It’s a sad day when I hear about such businesses closing down. This is why I encourage the gluten-free community to buy something from these businesses whenever possible…and to buy often. Take friends and family there and show them how amazing gluten-free foods can be.
It’s because the Annie May’s Sweet Cafes and the Sweet ‘N’ Savories throughout the nation that we, the gluten-free community, can find somewhere we feel confident and safe eating. And that…is a wonderful thing.
Support your local gluten-free businesses!
Karen Bradyhas been vegetarian since early 2010 and went gluten-free for medical reasons in February 2011. She is an avid runner in training for her upcoming first marathon. Other loves include cooking, traveling and writing, which she combines into her blog at http://veggiefoodlover.wordpress.com. She resides in Southern Indiana and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.