hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues November 2017


Bakery’s mission: Gluten-free that’s good

Quest for better bread gives rise to storefront, cafe


MaryAnna O’Donnell and Jeanne Daley show off some of the baked goods they sell at Saratoga Gluten Free Goods, their year-old bakery and cafe in Schuylerville. Joan K. Lentini photoMaryAnna O’Donnell and Jeanne Daley show off some of the baked goods they sell at Saratoga Gluten Free Goods, their year-old bakery and cafe in Schuylerville. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer

On a recent Monday morning, Jeanne Daley and MaryAnna O’Donnell were savoring the relative stillness in what is usually a beehive of activity.
The two women set out about a decade ago with a simple yet vexing challenge: They wanted to make gluten-free bread with a more appealing texture than the dense stuff they could find in supermarkets.

They gradually figured out bread, and then moved on to a full range of baked goods. The result was an allergen-friendly baking business run from the basement of O’Donnell’s home in Saratoga Springs.

But after years of selling at farmers markets and slowly building their brand, they decided to take the next leap. Last year, Daley, O’Donnell and O’Donnell’s son, Robert Averill, opened Saratoga Gluten Free Goods on Schuylerville’s main street.

The 3,500-square-foot facility at 176 Broad St. offers ample space in its back end for mixing, baking and packaging gluten-free sweet and savory baked goods that run the gamut from fruit pies to Rosemary-tinged dinner rolls.

But the crown jewel of the building is the fragrant front end, a cheerful cafe with seating, counter service and a dazzling array of edibles. The cottage-like storefront has become a mecca for those living with allergies and intolerances to wheat and gluten.

The large blackboard on the wall sets the tone -- “Rising Above Expectations” -- as it lists prices for coffee drinks, cookies, pita breads, layer cakes, pastries and tea breads. Beneath the blackboard are wooden crates filled with flour-dusted baguettes that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris, along with an array of bagged, sliced breads and rolls in varying sizes.

A glass case at the counter displays the offerings that draw many through the door, including those who don’t need to eat gluten-free but simply like the products: pumpkin pies bordered in a fringe of whipped cream, coconut macaroons, frosted cinnamon buns, chocolate chip cookies, lemon-glazed raspberry scones, cupcakes piled high with butter-cream frosting, and key lime pie bars.

The café also offers savory items such as homemade soups and individual-sized quiches. A small lunch menu is available daily and includes items such as vegan blueberry muffins, macaroni and cheese, chicken salad, vegetable frittatas, soups, and chicken sausage with spinach, garlic and Gruyere.

O’Donnell and Daley both admit to being amazed how their once-fledgling company has taken off.

“We’re shocked at how the business has grown,” O’Donnell said. “We started out in 2008 selling at farmers markets.”


Crafting better recipes
The two women were co-workers at a Saratoga Springs nursery when they came up with their business model serendipitously and out of frustration at the lack of gluten-free breads on the market that could provide a soft, spongy texture.

O’Donnell has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, causes damage to the small intestine. Daley’s father also had celiac disease and had to avoid consuming foods with gluten.

Besides a more palatable texture in gluten-free foods, the duo wanted to create breads with more nutrient-rich flours than the rice and tapioca flour commonly used in commercially produced gluten-free foods.

“We wanted to avoid that dry denseness that a lot of gluten-free products have,” O’Donnell recalled. “So we worked with finding the right balance of ingredients.”

It took nine months of baking trial and error before they came up with a formula that yielded breads and rolls with a soft, fluffy texture not born of emulsifiers or white flour.

“We had to be very meticulous about writing down every step after each attempt, so when we finally did get it right, we knew how to repeat it,” Daley said. “It was a big relief. … But then we had to learn how to do it in bulk.”

The bulk recipes, as it turned out, came in handy. O’Donnell and Daley started out by selling their wares at the Gansevoort farmers market. Word spread quickly, and area health food stores and restaurants began clamoring for their breads and cookies.

It soon became clear that their nursery jobs would have to give way to full-time baking. O’Donnell’s son became a partner in the venture in 2010. Aside from the three days a week of solid baking, they needed to devote time to packaging, delivery and order-taking duties.
As the business grew, so did the requests from the community to open a freestanding bakery store.

“We loved the idea, but we didn’t want to rush into it,” Daley said. “We’ve seen too many small businesses take on too much in the beginning and then collapse.”

After their profit margin became healthy enough, they began researching viable locations for a store and cafe. They settled on the village of Schuylerville.

“I live in Saratoga Springs and love it,” O’Donnell said. “But the rents are too high, and there’s no parking.”

The attraction of Schuylerville was more than just affordability, though.
“There are a lot of youth in this community who are excited about seeing their downtown grow,” O’Donnell said. “And Schuylerville has one of the best school systems in the country. It’s a supportive and growing community, and in the short time we’ve been open, foot-traffic has grown considerably.”


New home, growing staff
O’Donnell and her husband, Scott Averill, bought the site for their future bakery in 2014. They lease the building, a spacious former bicycle shop, to Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods.
Rehabbing the interior took a year and includes some creative repurposing of building materials that predated the renovation. Wooden beams from the ceiling now serve as glossy countertops and tables, for example.

“Even our blackboard is an old window that we took out,” O’Donnell said. “We bought used materials or repurposed as much as we could.”

They have hired a staff to help with the growing clientele.
“We have two phenomenal pastry chefs now, Melissa Bohnoutka and Sarah Vasquez,” Daley said. “Sarah has great ideas with flavors, like her jalapeno-Monterey jack scones to go with our chili, and Melissa is a fantastic cake decorator who just did a Gandalf wizard cake with a life-sized hat.”

Baristas Stephanie Scerbo and Steve Belsito serve artisanal cups of tea, espresso and frothy cappuccinos.

“We have a really talented, creative staff and let them play to their strengths,” Daley said. “Steve came up with a vegan tart noir, … a dessert we’ve come to call ‘chocolate crack.’”

And speaking of vegan, O’Donnell and Daley say it’s their next frontier of recipe development in light of some of their customers’ egg and dairy allergies.

“We sold out of products” at the recent Third Annual Allergen and Gluten-Free Expo at Crossgates Mall in Albany, O’Donnell said. “We could have sold even more if we had more vegan products.”

That means going back to the drawing board to develop a country white vegan bread recipe with all the right ingredients, while also passing the flavor and texture test.

“We’ve been asked to do a vegan white bread without soy or aquafaba” (a vegan egg substitute made from lentils), O’Donnell said. “I’m working on a recipe with psyllium as the egg substitute. Some kids are allergic to beans, and we don’t want to use flax as an egg substitute because of the phytoestrogens.

“I love the chemistry of baking,” she added. “It can take months to get it right, but I’m not inclined to rush the process because you sacrifice quality.”

Customers clearly agree Saratoga Gluten-Free’s nutrient-rich breads, made with flours such as amaranth, quinoa, millet, brown rice, sorghum and flax meal, are worth the wait – and the higher price.

The cost of a 2-pound loaf of bread is $8.50, and cinnamon raisin bread is $9.50.
“But you’re getting nutrients, fiber and, in some cases, protein with our bread,” Daley said.
O’Donnell and Daley have more than doubled their baking production since their basement assembly-line days, and the number of retailers and restaurants they serve has grown from a handful to 40, some as far away as Rochester.

The hectic pace of an expanding baking business means the two women have only recently been granted the luxury of having Saturdays off.

“It took us a year to get to that point, and MaryAnna and I alternate Sundays,” Daley said with a smile. “We’ve gotten so busy we had to stop doing farmers markets. But we hope to return to that someday.”


For more information about Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods, visit https://www.facebook.com/SaratogaGlutenFreeGoods or call (518) 695-6565. The bakery is accepting Thanksgiving orders for gluten-free stuffing cubes, pies, tea breads and dinner rolls through Nov. 15.