Sisters Sue Gass and Stephanie White (she’s the younger one) started Stevie G’s Gluten Free Bakery last spring and now they have a big problem. They need a kitchen that will allow them to keep up with demand. They started out in a family kitchen in Gray Rock, with an ordinary oven, and now they have to schedule themselves all day so that they can work the kitchen to its maximum capacity.
Their product line of course has no wheat flour and is high protein. “It caters to the ‘paleo’ crowd,” said White. “We’re trying to keep everything handmade and fresh.”
For now, their products are granola, granola bars, brownies, coffee cake, caramel pecan bars, seven layer bars, and frozen ice cream cookie sandwiches. “Those are outrageous!” she said. “They are a very unique product. There’s nothing like them on the market. Ice cream sandwich? Gluten free?!”
They make bread and rolls, but cannot offer them on a commercial scale yet.
In Crozet, Stevie G’s products are at Crozet Great Valu and Greenwood Gourmet Grocery, at Albemarle Cider Works in North Garden, and in Charlottesville at Foods of All Nations, Rebecca’s, Whole Foods, Milli Joe’s Coffee Shop, The Farm, Mellow Mushroom and Blue Ridge Country Store. “We’re trying to get into the wineries,” added Gass. They handle all deliveries and also do mail orders.
“Our mission is to join the gluten-free and the gluten-eating people so everyone can enjoy the same foods so that gluten-free eaters are not ‘different’,” said White. “For some kids, that’s important. It was gluten-eating fans of what we’ve been making at home who told us we should open a bakery.”
The sisters were raised in Pittsburgh and with their families lived for a stretch very near each other in Atlanta. They moved to Crozet 12 years ago and live near each other still.
“My daughter was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant when she was 10 years old,” said White. “That’s nine years ago. She had had serious health issues that could not be diagnosed.”
White, to show solidarity, went on a gluten-free diet herself. Soon she was feeling better and that caused her to wonder if she might be a little gluten sensitive too. Gass held out until very recently, but under persuasion she gave up gluten foods, too. “I made the plunge,” she said. “It’s taken away the fire I had in my joints. Since I’ve gone off, I’m so much better. And it’s really not that hard to do.”
White said it was hard for her daughter to be invited out. She couldn’t eat what was offered at places she went. White would make gluten-free things and send them along.
White had started baking at age nine. It wasn’t a family thing particularly. She stopped baking when they got the diagnosis. “I didn’t know how to bake gluten free.”
Then the day came when White was laid up with a knee injury and she started experimenting with gluten-free baking. “It became sort of a hobby and the feedback spurred me on,” she said. “I wanted my daughter to be able to eat the food I grew up on.
“We started going to the Crozet Farmers Market in May. It was a field study for us. We learned so much. We stayed through the season and the holiday market. Parents who came were so thankful. I have such a passion now for what I do.
“We really lean on each other,” said White. “We’re each good at different parts of the business. We are very close. We’ve got a synergy going that’s really exciting.”
The business’s name is a combination of White’s childhood nickname, Stevie, and the G for Gass.
Gass’s kitchen has been inspected by the health department and certified gluten-free. “We’ve reached the point where we have to have a bigger kitchen. One that has no contamination.”
The sisters both have other jobs, too, and they make time in the kitchen around all the other demands of life. They estimate they are each in Gass’s kitchen 50 hours a week. Meanwhile, they are both also enrolled in a course on how to run a small business.
“I’m a paralegal in the personal injury field, “said Gass. “My job is sad. These things have already happened to people. The bakery clicked for me. I’m providing something good for people. And I’m happy and smiling in my kitchen.”
Stevie G’s can be reached at 434-882-0428.