Some people avoid eating anything made with gluten because to do so would make them quite ill. Others avoid it because, well, it seems to be the eating trend of the moment. Whether you’re gluten free by choice or circumstance, new South Sound businesses catering to gluten-free eating have opened in recent weeks.
G.F. Joe’s is a market specializing in packaged gluten-free products ranging from bread to crackers, pizza to brownies. The first G.F. Joe’s opened in Tumwater in 2008 and expanded to Tacoma on July 11. Joe and Kaylee Spancic opened G.F. Joe’s shortly after Joe was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.
Julie Kropf left a career as a nurse to open Julie’s Gluten Free Bakery. While she’s never been gluten intolerant, Kropf opened the Puyallup bakery because she saw a demand. After less than a month of business, she’s already doubled her staff and inventory.
Here are excerpts from interviews with Joe Spancic and Julie Kropf about their new businesses.
G.F. Joe’s: Joe Spancic
Joe and Kaylee Spancic wound up in the Northwest because of Joe’s career in computers, which Joe left to start the store. The whole family helps. Twins Joseph and Jacob, 16, work with mother Kaylee in the Tumwater store. Daughter Alexandria, 29, is stationed in the Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and helps out, too. The Spancics employ a small staff at each store. They mainly sell prepared products, from boxed mixes to ready-to-eat items. Eventually, they plan to expand their 6,300-square-foot Tacoma store to include a deli and possibly a bakery.
Q: Your store was born out of your diagnosis of Celiac disease. Can you tell readers about that?
A: In 2006, I was diagnosed with celiac after forty-something years of not knowing what was going on. Of 260 symptoms for Celiacs, I’ve experienced (many) of them, from digestion issues to joint aches and pains and fatigue and skin rashes. … After so many trips to the doctors (and never finding what was really wrong), I stopped going to the doctor in my 20s. … I was fortunate my wife, in 2006, when I was having upper abdominal and chest pains, made me go to a doctor. I went to a gastrointestinal doctor. He screened me.
Q: How did you contend with the diagnosis? What came next?
A: Unfortunately, back then, in the gastroenterology world, they knew how to diagnose, but not necessarily how to treat. The diagnosis was first detected via blood test, but the gold standard was the biopsy of the small intestine. I remember, when I came out of sedation, he came in and he confirmed, ‘You have celiac.’ He said, ‘Nothing but meat and potatoes for you.’ … It didn’t really sink in until that evening when Kaylee and I went to Fred Meyer to find something that didn’t have gluten in it. After three hours, we walked out with a bag of rice and a bag of Fritos.
Q: Was that when the idea started forming to build a business?
A: That’s what started us really thinking that there’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be gluten-free products out there. A lot of it was us asking, ‘How do we find them and how do we get them here?’ It was two years to the day of my diagnosis that we opened the Tumwater store.
Q: Tell readers what products you specialize in.
A: In the gluten-free diet or lifestyle, fresh fruits and vegetables and meats, those are all naturally gluten free. In a grocery store, those are on the outside ring of the grocery store. So what we try and focus on is the center aisles, including the bakery items. That’s really where our focus of the store is. However, we found, especially in the Tumwater store, we’ve been able to cross over those boundaries. One of the things we’ve brought in – we’re now a drop-off point for a CSA (community supported agriculture). We’re trying to do that same thing in Tacoma, make it a little more local with some of the local farms.
Q: Which items are you most happy to offer your customers?
A: Pizza. We have Garlic Jim’s gluten-free pizzas. It’s not part of the restaurant, it’s a separate grocery unit. … Eggrolls. A company called Feel Good foods, the first product they launched was an Asian dumpling 18 months ago, and this spring they launched shrimp, chicken and vegetable egg rolls. They are just awesome. … Flour tortillas, the gluten-free tortillas were just killing me (because I couldn’t find one I liked). Rudy’s gluten-free bakery came out with a gluten-free tortilla. … They’ve been out about two months, I think I’ve eaten most of our supply.
Q: What about sweets and other substitutes? Gluten-free eaters often complain about finding acceptable substitutions that taste good and have decent texture. How about you?
A: The really positive and good thing is these gluten-free food manufacturers have come such a long way in the six years I’ve had to be gluten free. There’s really only two things I’m really missing and that’s a pita bread, which I know is coming because a couple manufacturers are working on it, and a phyllo dough. I don’t know if the phyllo dough would be possible in a gluten-free world, those are the top two on my wish list. … In doing our research when we first opened G.F. Joe’s, locally we found maybe 1,000 to 1,200 products. Now just our main distributor is carrying well over 4,000 that fall naturally into the gluten-free world.
Julie’s Gluten Free Bakery: Julie Kropf
Julie Kropf was a geriatric nurse for 33 years, but an amateur foodie and baker who wanted to begin a second career in the food business. Her husband is a former agriculture professor and currently an administrator at Washington State University. Her adult children have built a successful beverage and spirit magazine called “Mutineer.”
When a co-worker asked her to make gluten-free cupcakes, the seed was planted for a bakery. She experimented, researched and eventually ended her nursing career in exchange for a career in baking. Her bakery opened in late August with cupcakes, cookies and other sweet treats, but she recently expanded to offer gluten-free breads.
Q: How did you develop your recipes?
A: I just kind of figured it out. I found some recipes online and I tried them and I didn’t like them and I bought gluten-free flours and didn’t like them and then I started playing around with flours and started mixing it around until I found something that I like.
Q: What kind of flours do you use?
A: It was a lot of trial and error on the flours. I mix my own flours. We have so many flour bins on wheels. I use a combination of potato, rice and tapioca. I mix that every day. I use the same blend for everything. .. Everybody tells me, which I agree with, my products are better. My cakes are moister, they’re more tender … everything is made fresh every day. There’s no box mixes, everything is made from scratch. There are no preservatives. It’s like how my grandma would have made them, good, wholesome ingredients.
Q: How did you get the bakery started?
A: One of the gals at work said you need to get in touch with a friend who is a wedding planner (who) does a bridesmaid boot camp every year. … She said she needed a few hundred cupcakes and in a week, we pulled it off. I was called Daisy Cakes then.
Q: What was that event like?
A: We brought 600 cupcakes and it was a hit. I was talking to a bride, she was in tears because she was worried she couldn’t eat her own cake. I don’t know if she was celiac or gluten intolerant, she was in tears that she could finally eat her own wedding cake because I could make one. That got me going; the rest is history.
Q: So you make wedding cakes and other custom cakes?
A: We have four huge cakes going out on the 15th. One is an inverted skateboard, one is a rock pile with bulldozers. … The custom side of the business is really hopping.
Q: Do you worry that gluten free is an eating trend that may eventually die down? If that happens, will you have enough business?
A: It is a trend, you are right, but it’s also a lab-proved health condition. It can be deadly for some people; that’s not going to go away. … We’re here to stay. We’re not going to be a fad that is coming, then going.
G.F. Joe’s Market Tacoma
Where: 5811 S. Sprague Court
Info: 253-830-5985 or gfjoes.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays
G.F. Joe’s Market Tumwater
Where: 5739 Littlerock Road SW
Info: 360-628-8010 or gfjoes.com
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays
Julie’s Gluten Free Bakery
Where: 16126 Meridian E., Puyallup
Info: 253-840-4080 or Facebook
Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily