Baking with heart (not wheat)

Jennifer Coles

PHOTO BY Ernesto Rivera

Jennifer Coles has been baking since childhood. Her mother would always say to her, “Stir the butter with love,” a philosophy she still uses today and was instrumental when she started her business, CoCo Gluten-Free Baking Co., in 2012 out of her home. The company, named after her daughter’s nickname, has since taken to the streets thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that allowed Coles to purchase a trailer. Now, she takes her gluten-free treats across town in “the gluten-free-mobile” with stops at the Saturday farmers’ market, Fork in the Road and the Thursday Night Market. She lives in Chico with her husband and two children, and while they may be her biggest fans, she admits they are also her toughest critics. Her personal motto: “Just because you’re on a restricted diet doesn’t mean you have to eat cardboard.”

Tell me a little about your business.

I started about three years ago baking from my home kitchen. I opened with the cottage food operation—it’s a special permit you can get to bake out of your home from the county. It took off, it was crazy. I got a lot of business and decided to expand. I had a Kickstarter campaign last summer to get my trailer and then I started doing events and the farmers’ market and now I’m at the Thursday Night Market.

To what do you attribute such success?

Gluten-free is a lot more popular now; there are a lot of people getting diagnosed with celiac disease and also people who are just doing it for other dietary reasons. We have a really good product—I think that helps, too.

What kind of products do you offer?

We offer mostly sweets: cakes, cupcakes, cookies, lots of sweet bars, but we do breads as well, pizza crusts, sandwich bread, dinner rolls. We also sell wholesale to five local coffee shops in town: Bidwell Perk, Naked Lounge, Coffee Ranch, Midtown Local and It’s a Grind Coffeehouse.

Why start a bakery?

I’ve always loved to bake. I grew up baking with my mom, so when my kids went back to school I was twiddling my thumbs and trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself. I’ve been wheat-free for about 15 or 16 years and my family eats gluten-free, so it just made sense to put it together.

What kinds of ingredients do you use?

We use organic when we can, local ingredients when we can. My standard is it has to be better than regular baked goods. It can’t just be good enough for gluten-free—that doesn’t work for me. My husband is my taste tester so if it passes his test, then I know I’m going to sell it, and he’s not gluten-free. It has to be good and it feels good to make things for people who don’t normally get to eat things that are sweet.

What have been some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge is trying to do it all by myself. I do the social media, the accounting and the baking and the deliveries.