CeliCity: the gluten-free social network

I recently came across CeliCity, the only app (I know to date) that has a large network of gluten-free restaurants, shops and reviewers from all over the world.

Seeing as how a gluten-free social network is something I have always dreamed about creating, I knew that I had to reach out to the team at CeliCity to learn more about how they got started and how the app is performing.

Q: So, I found you guys on Twitter and as your bio says, you are a gluten-free social network. As someone who works in social media, and has Celiac, this is literally my dream product. What inspired you to create this app? Does your founder / developer have Celiac disease?

A: Thanks for your kind words, Julia – and for inviting us to take part in this interview. We’re really grateful to have this opportunity to let more people know about our work with CeliCity, and we’re also very happy that you described us as your Dream Product. No pressure for us then!

celi cityWe are a team of people who love traveling, technology, eating out (we definitively classify as foodies), but also we have a keen interest in the social aspect of eating: sharing quality time with friends and family.

We’ve got family members and friends who are Celiacs and that also follow a paleo diet and a gluten-free diet because of their lifestyle or personal choice.

When we went out for dinner with them, they shared the amount of trouble they had to go through when deciding a place to eat out. The choice was limited (or non-existent), prices were high, or they simply didn’t know what to expect from a place.

That got us to think more about the issues that a Celiac, or someone who is gluten-free, finds every day when having to find a place to eat or buy his/her gluten-free products.

We thought, that’s just not fair! There must be an easier way to do this. Eating out should be a pleasure, not a pain.

So, we put our heads together and were guided by our 4 passions: love for food, technology, traveling, and socializing, and we came up with CeliCity: a place for you to find all the gluten-free restaurants and shops at your fingertips.

Also by being based on crowd sourcing, it has a community feeling and includes real and up to date data from real people out there.

People can find the restaurant or shop they want, understand what range of gluten-free products they offer, review it, comment on it, know the price range and share it with the community.

Q: That is amazing. The gluten-free community has needed a product/technology like this for so long! So, when were you founded?

A: We started to think about the idea around 2013 and came up with the first draft designs that year. We engaged with a wonderful developer in Barcelona who coached us to find our identity, brand, name and colors.

We officially launched in Jan 2014 in iOS and in Spanish only, since we ran out of budget to deliver Android and English all in one go.

Within 2 months, the Apple Store selected us a featured app in the Food & Drinks category, next to brands like Nespresso and from then it was upwards and onwards. Very exciting!

Q: Exciting indeed! How has the app been received in the market? It seems like you have experienced tremendous growth with over 8,000 users!

celi city 3

CeliCity team from left to right: Mariano Najles, Jose Luis Rodriguez, and Joan Pou

A: Well, it sounds like a ready-made phrase but it isn’t: our users are our most important asset. We do everything with them in mind and in order to please them and help them.

They are actually CeliCity; they’re the ones who make CeliCity possible with their reviews, comments, uploads and sharing.

When they follow us on Twitter, Facebook or visit our webpage, we grow and they also grow with, because we are all helping each other and have more options than they had yesterday.

We’ve now launched Android in Spanish, and the English version both in iOS and Android.  We’ve got plans to launch a few more languages as well, so stay tuned.

Q: That’s so exciting! Congratulations!

A: Thank you!

Q: The app represents over 14 countries; is there one country that seems to have a much bigger presence or level of information (or engagement) than others?

A: Because of where we were born as a social start-up (Barcelona, Spain) and the way in which we developed (as per our previous answer), Spain is the mothership and the place where we have the most amount of users.

Since we launched in Spanish in early 2014, and one of our founders is from Argentina, that is our second place in terms of amount of users.

The US and UK come in a joint third place, since we launched our English version quite recently. It has grown massively and we’ve got a really engaged audience who keeps asking us from more.

Q: What countries (if any) were you surprised to see adopt the app early on?

A: We were surprised by the high response rate all over the world.

As you said in your introduction, it seemed like people were really craving for an easy to use, nicely designed app that will help them. So, users responded massively well all over the 14 countries where we have a presence now.

celi city 2In terms of specific regions, Latin America has a great uptake.

The US and the UK have been amazing, as people seem to engage really quickly and show a lot of interest.

Spain has grown massively and people are really passionate about it.

Finally, we are still surprised to see downloads from new countries every day, where we’ve taken no action to promote CeliCity. This tells us that there is an untapped opportunity to satisfy a real need.

Q: I definitely agree. So, are there any features or functions that you are excited to roll out soon? Any changes that we can expert to see?

A: Yes. How much time do you have for this answer!? There are so many things we want to add.

The pace of developing new features is tied to funding (we are a start-up), but also it’s governed by what our customers want and what we can provide to a high standard of quality.

We wouldn’t launch something that hasn’t been tested, or if we had doubts about its quality. So, we are constantly trying to strike the right balance between innovation and all the exciting things we’ve got in mind, versus funding availability and quality control.

We managed to secure funding from a business angel last year which help us developed Android and English, so that went great.

Having said that, we’ve got a few things in the pipeline: new languages (we are thinking about Italian, French, German, Portuguese, but also would love to know if people want any others).

We are also thinking about a new section dedicated to products and recipes to encourage people to interact even more between one another.

Finally, it would be great to hear from others out there: what else is on your minds!? Let us know and we’ll try really hard to make it happen!

celi city 4

Jose Luis Rodriguez (CEO and part owner of CeliCity)

Q: That is amazing! I would love to see a new section for products and recipes. It would be great to be able to share with others from around the world! Finally, when it comes to gluten-free restaurants and/or brands, do you have a favorite?

A: Oh that’s a really difficult one! We truly are foodies and love anything that tastes great, whether it’s at a high-end restaurant, or in a cheap and cheerful venue.

I guess what we love the most are places where people are really committed to go the extra mile for gluten-free choices and offer a great range of options, whilst keeping a very conscious and careful approach to treating Celiac and gluten-free people’s needs.

We’ll go for those who put the effort to offer quality and don’t punish their customer with high prices. We know that some places mark their gluten-free offering significantly up and we feel it’s unfair.

Finally, we’ll support our users and go with their choices, because they know best!

It’s clear to see that CeliCity is extremely committed to providing gluten-free eaters with knowledge, insights on restaurants and a community of users to support and interact with.

I encourage you to follow them on social media and visit their website to learn more.

It is so refreshing and invigorating to see the passion behind the CeliCity team and their dedication to innovation in order to provide richer solutions and benefits to its community of users. 

I highly encourage you to download the app today and try it yourself!

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Simply Sweet boasts Buffalo’s best gluten-free baked goods

there is no doubt that Simply Sweet of WNY boasts Buffalo’s best gluten-free baked goods.

Simply Sweet is my favorite bakery in Buffalo for a few reasons:

  • simplysweet logoIt’s locally owned and operated by a wonderful woman, Cindy Slomowitz.
  • It has the best gluten-free pasta I’ve ever found: Pappardelle’s.
  • They sell rugelach. (Not every day, but when requested. Piece of advice: go there and request it. It is a gift from the heavens above.)
  • They sell a ton of other locally made, gluten-free, products.

I first chatted with Cindy Slomowitz, in January 2014.

At the time, her bakery was a just a dream. Flash forward just 15 months later; Cindy now owns one of Buffalo’s most popular gluten-free bakeries.

simply sweet5I caught up with her to find out what it’s been like starting her own business, how the community has responded to her products and what you can look forward to enjoying during your next visit to the bakery.

Q: Cindy, last time we spoke you were just starting the process of opening up your bakery. I’m curious to hear how the process was of opening up your own brick and mortar shop compared to what you were doing before by selling your product to local retailers?

A: It has definitely been a learning experience to say the least! Opening the brick and mortar part of the bakery was the easy part.

Once I selected the equipment I wanted and designed the layout and interior of the bakery, I just turned it all over to my husband, Ken, who took it from there. He has been, and still is, my biggest supporter.

simply sweet2Learning the process of baking for day-to-day retail sales as opposed to baking for a one day farmers market had a bit of a learning curve. There are so many thing that come in to play: how much variety, quantity because of shelf life, display, storage, specialty items, the list goes on.

Sometimes it is still a guessing game! It has been almost a year, but I think we have done a good job of always having a variety of delicious gluten-free items that people are really enjoying.

Q: When did you officially open?

A: We officially opened last year the week of Mothers Day, so our one year anniversary is coming up!

simply sweet4Q: How has business been? Have you seen the foot traffic or brand awareness increase throughout the last year?

A: Business had been really good. We still see a lot of new customers every week, so I know that people are out there talking about us and that is a good sign. I think word of mouth is one of the best ways to advertise.

Just coming up on our anniversary we have close to 3,500 Facebook likes; I think that is great!  Checking out our page is the best way to see what we have going on day-to-day. I post daily pictures of things we are offering that week. We are till trying to get a handle on Instagram and Twitter.

Q: What’s your favorite part of owning your own business? Was there anything that surprised you or opened your eyes about being a business owner?

simply sweet7A: My favorite part of owning a business is the customers.

We truly have some wonderful people who come in and share their tale of woe or triumph over eating gluten-free.

Customers thank me continuously for doing what I do, opening this bakery, and sometimes even have tears in their eyes because they are so happy, is the best part for me.

Q: What’s your personal favorite product that you make?

Cindy, owner of Simply Sweet

Cindy, owner of Simply Sweet

A: A favorite item is hard for me to pick because I truly enjoy baking and we make so many great items!

Since your making me choose, I still think my Chocolate Chip Cookie is still my favorite any time of day, with a close second to our Brownie if I am craving chocolate!

Q: What’s your most popular or best-selling product that you make?

A: We have a few, I have learned that we can never be without Black & White Cookies, Brownies, Coconut Macaroons, and Cranberry Bliss Cookies.

Q: Yum! I love the coconut macaroons. So, I know that you sell more than just Simply Sweet products. What’s your favorite product (that you don’t make) that you sell in the bakery?

simply sweet6A: My favorite product that I sell that I do not make is Brian’s Best Buns. They are truly the best sandwich bun on the market, and since I have opened I have sold several hundred bags.

I carry them in gluten-free Whole Grain, Mock Rye, and dairy-free/gluten-free Whole Grain. They come in two sizes, regular sandwich size, or “Baby Buns” dinner roll size.

Q: I love Brian’s Best Buns and am so happy that you sell them! Until you did, the only place I knew I could get them would be brunch (or lunch) at Betty’s on Virginia. What made you decide to sell products outside of your own brand in the bakery?

simply sweet3A: When I opened the bakery I decided I wanted to offer other gluten-free products that I did not make that are either produced gluten-free or are naturally gluten-free to help promote and support other business that started out just like mine, in the kitchen of their own home.

Brian’s Best Buns, Moxie Bars, Donna’s Pepper Jelly and Jams, Public Coffee are all locally made. I am always on the look out for new products.

Q: Is there anything that I should keep my eyes (or appetite) open for, such as the introduction of new products? Or is there anything you’d like to share with the audience?

A: We are constantly getting requests for bread, so we will soon be offering sandwich bread and par-baked pizza crust.

My latest product introduction that has taken off very well is Buttermilk Biscuits that you take home and bake.

In closing, I would like to let everyone know that we can make a variety of custom cakes and desserts, and most of them can be made dairy-free as well if need be. Just give us at least 48 hours notice for your special order!

simply sweet1There’s no doubt that Simply Sweet has one of the largest varieties of gluten-free, locally made products available in the region.

I highly recommend making it a point to stop in sometime over the next month to try out one of her products. You’ll be blown away by the quality and consistency.

Gluten-free or not, I promise that you won’t leave disappointed.