By CHERIE GOUGH | Uptown News
Roanna Canete has been baking beautiful gluten-free treats in San Diego since 2015. On Feb. 8, she opened a retail storefront. Her delicious gluten-free goodies and leadership within San Die-go’s allergy community is helping make San Diego a prominent destination for those with limited diets.
You already own a thriving wholesale gluten-free baking kitchen selling to restaurants and hotels. Why open a retail storefront now?
We’d had so much demand. We would get phone calls from people wanting small orders with special glazes. But I couldn’t deliver that on a wholesale level. I also didn’t love working the farm-ers markets. Estimating how much product to make each week without a loss caused me too much stress. I started to realize I wanted a brick and mortar.
I have a mentor and he said your retail location can’t be in the same space as wholesale. I knew how much I hated looking at property with realtors, so when the space in North Park became available and I wasn’t looking, I felt like this is the right thing to do at the right time.
At your grand opening, you had seven ribbon cutters. Why?
We had people of different ages, races and genders representing the celiac community and glu-ten-free community, including vegans who have allergies and vegans by choice, those allergic to wheat, and those who avoid gluten by choice. I wanted to show that the gluten-free community includes everyone from the young girl to the older gentleman. There’s no real clear-cut profile except for the foods they don’t eat. We all come to the table and we’re all different but we all eat gluten-free.
So, you were trying to put a face to the community?
Yes. I wanted to put a face to the facets of the community. Gluten-free people often feel exclud-ed, so I wanted to create a sense of inclusion and celebration at the opening
Community seems important to you. Is that key to success?
Yes. I think engaging the community and creating a sense of shared identity and common ground is key.
How do you go about developing recipes?
For me, I need to create the best recipe every time. It requires trial and error and working with people. When developing lemon bars for instance, I needed the base to crisp and I was having trouble with that. At the time, I was reading a cookbook where the author compares recipes and tries using different ingredients from famous restaurants’ recipes to his grandmother’s. He notic-es how these terrific recipes are similar, and what the possible downfalls might be. Then at the end, he makes a recipe based off of his observations of all of that, and that last recipe is the best because he takes everybody’s ideas, learns from them, and puts them together. That’s what I did when learning to create our lemon bars.
With our bagels, I needed help. I’d never made a bagel. I made the dough, then I got together with Kristee at Big City Bagels and she showed me how to boil the water and the process for ac-tually making bagels. I needed her expertise. And people were blown away by those bagels. The first few weeks that Big City Bagels debuted our gluten-free bagels, customers were livid. They thought the store got their order wrong, that they were served a “regular” bagel with gluten. Ours taste just like the real thing.
Which items are you most proud of, what are your best sellers, and what seasonal items are coming?
I’m really proud of our cinnamon rolls. To make a vegan cinnamon roll that doesn’t crumble, is gooey and can be heated without drying up. I’m really proud of that.
Donuts and bagels are our most requested items. That’s what our gluten-free customers say they want the most.
We are getting ready to stock mini pies and crumbles using seasonal fruits.
You recently competed on Netflix’s ‘Sugar Rush’ with your cake decorator Lisa Altfest, who is a celiac, and baked everything gluten-free. What’s been the response?
It’s been overwhelming. We’ve received emails and handwritten letters from all over the world. The most distinctive response was to Lisa with people saying, “I never knew a celiac could do that — become a renowned baker.” We’ve had pastry chefs from Europe to South America ask-ing how they can learn to bake such beautiful gluten-free treats, and sharing their dreams of opening their own shops. One letter that definitely stands out was from the mom of a boy who was just diagnosed with celiac disease. He was devastated, but then that same week, they turned on the show and watched us create our bakes. It gave him hope. We sent him a package of our chocolate cake mix and he is saving it for his birthday cake this year.
What’s next for you?
I want to start a gluten-free pastry school based in San Diego. I’d love to empower people with the basics of how to successfully bake gluten-free at home as well as train professionals in depth using French pastry techniques who are looking to open their own gluten-free pastry shop.
You seem very driven and always looking toward the next project. What inspires you?
I’ve got this fire inside of me that motivates me. I need to feel like I can balance family, life and work, like three balls in the air, but also, I cannot be bored at work, ever. I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of each day.
— Cherie Gough is an award winning local writer uncovering San Diego’s best gluten-free gems.