Eat your wheat ease
According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, 1 out of 133 Sacramentans have celiac disease. These people cannot eat foods with gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Major bummer, yes, but also a grocery-shopping quandary. Enter Melanie Weir, 30: Her market, Gluten Free Specialty Market at 2612 J Street, is here to help people who can’t eat gluten and are tired of poring over food labels at Safeway. Good deal. And for the rest of us, there are tasty treats: dairy-free chocolates, tasty vegan cinnamon rolls. Mmm.
Describe how you came up with the idea for this alternative grocery market.Basically, a couple of my friends and I were frustrated about reading labels and trying to find gluten-free items in the grocery store. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a gluten-free grocery store we could go to and not have to worry?”
So you just opened shop?Well, actually I started as a Web store, but before I went online, I realized what we really needed in Sacramento was a retail store. People need more than just a place to order online. They need the help and service that comes with a retail market.
Why gluten-free?At the time I didn’t realize how big the market [for gluten-free] is. I thought it must be small because it was hard to find gluten-free products. Ten percent of the population is gluten intolerant. … Others have gluten sensitivities or allergies.
You fall into one of these categories?I’m gluten intolerant. I cannot eat foods with wheat, rye, barley or oats without getting sick. I often have problems with products made in facilities that use gluten.
Tell me about the store.It’s a lot different than a standard grocery store, mainly in three ways. In addition to having gluten-free products, we have many different allergy-friendly products. We are also a community-based store, and we keep an ongoing list of people’s requests and a list of special-order products. We try to have as much locally sourced products as possible.
Allergy-friendly products?We have dairy-free chocolate bars. We have dairy-free and egg-free cinnamon rolls. We also carry a variety of wheat-free flours.
Is it easy to cook with these ingredients?Actually it’s a lot more difficult to cook with gluten-free products, such as preparing bread without gluten. The difficult part isn’t actually cooking gluten-free, it’s figuring out recipes in addition to finding the products. Having to go to eight stores to bake bread makes [baking] less appealing. [But] we offer classes. In fact, we have a class coming up on flour mixing. Five people have signed up and we’re waiting for more, so it’s still TBA, but it will be on a Wednesday, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Tell me one of your recipes.We’re making a millet grain, which is similar to couscous or tapioca. It’s an easy-to-cook millet that can be made into porridge for breakfast or put in a tabbouleh for dinner.
How’s business?We’ve been open since July 12, and business is great. We’ve steadily increased since we opened.
Nice.It’s great when the economy is going down and business is up.
Why do you think you’re the exception?We serve a need in the community that is not being addressed. Until I opened this store, I didn’t realize how many people in the downtown Sacramento area are on a gluten-free diet, have allergies or have dietary needs not being addressed by supermarkets. The other thing I find interesting is the number of vegans excited for foods they can’t find anywhere else.
Any odd problems?The funniest thing I’ve run into was an individual who informed me that she couldn’t eat gluten-free foods. When I asked her why, she said she feared becoming gluten intolerant and that she liked bread, which is funny, because the only way to become gluten intolerant is by eating gluten. It taught me that the Sacramento community is ready to be informed about gluten-free foods.
You run the store solo?I do with the support of family and friends (laughs), and it’s hard work sometimes, but well worth it for the people the store benefits.