The quantity and variety of gluten-free products increases with each passing day.
According to the Gluten-Free Agency, sales in the gluten-free category are expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2015, and over 15 percent of consumers eat gluten-free as part of a healthy lifestyle, not just due to dietary restrictions.
The production of gluten-free foods is becoming more commonplace as the gluten-free diet becomes increasingly trendy.
Mixed feelings abound in regard to the gluten-free diet fad, especially among those who suffer from Celiac disease, as the diet’s trendiness has both disadvantaged and benefited those forced to adhere to the gluten-free diet.
On the downside, the gluten-free trend has led some retailers to introduce sub-par products into the market just to ensure they don’t miss the opportunity to attract an expanding group of consumers.
On the upside, the demand for gluten-free products is higher than ever which has led to a wide selection of high-quality products to choose from.
It can even be seen in our own backyard, as Buffalo boasts an abundance of restaurants both knowledgeable and accommodating of the gluten-free diet.
Similarly, through the quality of their products, local start-ups are beginning to prove that when it comes to gluten-free, there’s no need to settle.
Gluten free doesn’t have to mean anything other than free of gluten.
During a visit to Spot Coffee, I discovered Simply Sweet Of WNY. Posted up right by the counter, the basket of gluten-free cookies sang to me and I ended up inhaling an oatmeal cookie before my coffee was ready.
In January 2014, I chatted with Cindy Slomovitz of Simply Sweet of WNY to find out how she got started, what products she makes and where you can go to indulge in the plethora of gluten-free sweets that she makes.
*Note: this interview was conducted in 2014; stay tuned for an updated interview!
Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. As you can see from my blog, I’m a big advocate for the gluten-free community so I’m excited to have the chance to learn more about your business.
A: My pleasure, Julia. I actually went online and read your posts and learned about some new places which I have never heard about, like Merge! I love learning about new gluten-free businesses, so it’s been great to read your series.
A: I found out that I was gluten-intolerant when I came across an article in a women’s health and cooking magazine. Since I’m a foodie, I picked it up and immediately was like “that’s me, I have those symptoms.” I started following the diet and within 10 days of eliminating gluten from my diet, I started feeling better. I haven’t eaten gluten for the last six years.
Q: Since Celiac is an auto-immune disease, everyone’s symptoms manifest themselves differently. I personally suffer from debilitating stomach pain (like someone is stabbing my lower abdomen,) but my mom just gets a runny nose. How do you react when eating gluten?
A: It’s so true! I think that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to diagnose…because everyone responds differently. I started having some intestinal issues, bad joint pain and dental issues as well. I wasn’t feeling well and when I started researching the symptoms, I saw that they tied together. Once I stopped eating gluten, the problems disappeared. I no longer had joint pain and literally felt 10 years younger!
Q: Wow. It’s always interesting for me to her how differently people react despite having the same intolerance. But onto more positive things like your business; when did you start, and why?
A: I started my business about one year ago. I’m of Polish descent so everything revolves around food; it’s all, “What are you going to make and bring for the family dinner?” I also love to cook, so after I had a pity party for myself after coming home from Wegmans and trying the gluten-free pre-made products, I told myself there’s got to be a way to do this.
I started researching, reading, baking and testing recipes. Through the years, I got good at it. I would cook for friends and family and nobody would know that it was gluten-free. My husband finally convinced me to take things to the next level. He’s a business owner. He has a business background so he handles the business and I do the baking. I felt like just because we have to eat this way, we shouldn’t be deprived.
Q: I couldn’t agree more. So, would you say that is your mission?
A: I guess I would say that my mission is that I want us (America) to get over the idea that just because something isn’t made with wheat flour, doesn’t mean it can’t taste good. I want people who need to eat this way to have as tasty a treat as those who don’t have to follow the gluten-free diet. It’s not fair that we have to settle for sub-standard treats.
A: My inspiration came after starting the diet and trying a few different products in the market. The first time I ate a gluten-free bagel, I spit it right back out. Not only did it cost $7 for the bag, but it was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. That was all the inspiration I needed; I decided that I’m not settling for this.
Then it was the support of my husband in telling me that my products were good and I could do it. I think that food is so celebratory; it brings people together. It’s comforting. Look at the weather we’ve been having; why shouldn’t I be able to have a warm piece of cornbread right out of the oven? That was my inspiration; my love of food and desire to provide other people with good food they can eat.
Q: You obviously love to cook and eat, so I’ve got to know: what products do you make, and how long did it take to come up with the recipes? I know that with gluten-free baking, recipe creation can be the most time consuming process.
A: I typically start with a basic recipe and tweak it from there to make it gluten-free. I mean, you can’t reinvent the chocolate chip cookie. I find recipes out there and adjust them by adding a flavor or replacing a flour. The whole science of baking gluten-free is hard because each product reacts differently, so it’s about trial and error.
Q: Oh, completely. If you read my interview with Kyra Bussanich, you get a good feel for how much effort is required just to make a flour blend.
A: I just bought her cookbook! It’s wonderful! I made the peanut butter truffle bars; they were like a rice krispy treat with peanut butter cream topping and dark chocolate. It was delicious! Anything with peanut butter is a winner for me.
Q: So, how many products do you make? Or is it hard to say since you like to play around in the kitchen?
A: I have a basic core which includes about about eight different kinds of cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal, cranberry, granola, sugar, peanut butter, a double chocolate chip and a half-and-half cookie which is made by combining a scoop of double chocolate chip cookie dough with a scoop of the peanut butter cookie dough. So, cookies are my basis. I also make granola, brownies and crumb cake.
Q: Mmm, I’m getting hungry. Since you’re the chef, I’m curious to know what your personal favorite product is that you make?
A: That’s tough, I have so much. I was thinking about that and I think the hardest thing for me to resist when baking and pulling it out of the oven is my chocolate chip cookies. I try not to eat them so much because it’s like my waist line—I bake everyday—but they are delicious.
A: I have a few different locations that I sell to. I deliver to Spot Coffee’s main kitchen on Hertel, and they distribute it out to their various locations. I sell my granola at Lexington Co-Op and also sell a variety of products at Farmers and Artisans. I sell a variety of products at Mazurek’s Bakery; the types of products vary by the week but they’re usually always cookies.
Finally, I make treats that I serve at Horsefeathers Winter Market. I’m there every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It has everything from my gluten-free products to meat, cheese, dog treats, fruits, vegetables. It’s a fun thing to do in the city on a Saturday morning.
*Click here for the complete list of Simply Sweet’s locations.
Q: What would you say is the most popular product? Do you happen to know which one flies off the shelves fastest?
A: There’s really no way to know. There were three weeks in a row when I sold out of granola, then the next week I brought extra and nobody bought a bag (chuckles). It’s different every time. But whatever I’m sampling, I sell out of every time. I’ve found that once people sample it, they’re hooked on it.
Q: It sounds like things are going really well, which must be very exciting. Do you have any plans to expand to sell in more locations?
A: I am hoping to expand in the upcoming months and have contacted a few different stores which I hope to hear back from within the next month. I also plan to open a Simply Sweet bakery! The exact location is still to be determined, but I can tell you that it will be in the Village of Williamsville.
Q: That’s a great sign! So, one final question: is there any message or anything you’d like to share with the gluten-free eaters or readers of the blog series about your business?
A: I have so many ideas and things that I want to share with people who have to eat this way. I mostly want to share that the reason I continue to grow Simply Sweet is to make sure that people who eat gluten free have a great place to come and enjoy delicious baked goods.
It’s clear to see that Cindy Slomovitz, the owner of Simply Sweet, feels passionately about providing local gluten-free eaters with treats that are delicious and healthy.
Stay tuned for a recent interview with Cindy which will showcase her newly opened bakery!