Gluten Free Dining on the Rise

by Jennifer Bobbitt

A few years ago I learned about celiac disease when a young family member was diagnosed  after extensive testing due to reoccurring intestinal issues and sickness.  On vacation with the family, I witnessed first hand how time consuming and tedious it was to find food that was safe to consume. They used apps as resources to check ingredients. They also used their own cookware and their own utensils to avoid cross contamination, which is a serious threat to anyone with celiac disease on a gluten free diet.  Even trace amounts of gluten have the potential to wreak havoc on a celiac sufferers system. The family had to plan carefully when dining out and often packed a back-up meal just in case the restaurant kitchen couldn’t guarantee that the food was truly free of gluten cross contamination.  A few years later, and thankfully much has changed to accommodate those suffering from a gluten intolerance.

According to Delight gluten free magazine, Boulder Brands, a producer of gluten free food products, reported a $49.5 million profit; a 35% increase in net sales in the fourth quarter of 2012. They also note a research company; Packaged Facts, that reported the gluten free market in the U.S. would  grow from a $4.2 billion dollar industry in 2012 to $6.6 billion by 2017. Clearly, there is activity outside the home kitchen to support the hungry, gluten free consumer.

St. Bon's

Restaurants are taking note. Davis Wince, Ltd. designed St. Bon’s Café is the vision of restaurant owner Kurt Fulwider.  Fulwider was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010 and noticed the shortage of fresh gluten free bakery items in the Denver metro area. The new restaurant was named after St. Bonaventure,  the patron saint of stomach disorders.  St. Bonaventure became the inspiration for opening this restaurant to serve those who suffer from stomach ailments, and it also contributed greatly to the religious design theme of the bakery. Fulwider added his own personal touches to the space with an altar serving as the center community table in the space, a church organ, reclaimed stained glass church windows hanging in the storefront, and a church pew that functions as a banquette. The final outcome included a functional kitchen layout, new casework for both storage and a service counter for customers, a reconfigured order counter, green accent colors found in the company’s logo, and modern finishes such as stained concrete floors, wood wall slats, and linear wall tiles.

According to The Gluten Free Institute, the #1 complaint of gluten sensitive individuals is the difficulty in dining out. The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America estimates a 10-14% increase in yearly profits for restaurants offering a gluten intolerant menu.  Many national chains like Davis Wince, Ltd. client, Mellow Mushroom, offer gluten free food and drinks, and local restaurants are increasing options or adding menu items to support gluten intolerant patrons.  College and university dining halls are also taking note. Best Colleges Online  lists the top colleges that cater to gluten sensitive students. Davis Wince, Ltd. designed  Ohio University Central Food Facility  has undergone a major transformation including a gluten free kitchen.  According to The Post article, “Culinary Services strives to meet students’ special dietary needs,”  Ohio University Culinary Services also places color-coded nutritional icons in their dining halls to accommodate students dietary restrictions like gluten free needs.

Professional chefs named gluten free as the eighth most popular trend of 2013, according to the recent National Restaurant Association survey. In the same survey, it was named the top trend by quick-service restaurant operators.  Ask any celiac disease sufferer and they will tell you gluten free is not a trend but a necessary way of life, whether eating at home or dining out.

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