Navigating the wheat free, gluten free diet

Posts tagged ‘Satchel’s’

Chatting with Kathy Whipple of Ward’s Supermarket

No city is complete without a family-owned local market, and in Gainesville, Fla., the only market that qualifies is Ward’s Supermarket.  Upon walking into the store, it’s hard to believe that 15 years ago the place didn’t even sell natural foods, and I spoke with the woman who spearheaded Ward’s’ foray into the natural food market.  Whipple also happens to be a gluten-free vegetarian, and is thus responsible for every gluten-free item Ward’s sells.  As I found out, I and the rest of gluten-free Gainesville would be lost without her.

Me: So I guess I just wanted to know how Ward’s got started selling all this gluten-free stuff and how you find out about the products.

KW: It’s me

Me: How long have you been working at Ward’s?

KW: Since 1994.  I’m the assistant manager of natural foods.

Me: You’re on a gluten-free diet right? Is that by necessity?

KW: Yes. I’m not diagnosed (with Celiac Disease), but I’ve done several rounds of the elimination diet.  Throughout my life I had a lot of symptoms that I now recognize as either celiac or severe gluten intolerance: allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems.   Around 1990, I’d just read an article about wheat allergy and thought, you know what, I haven’t tried that in a while.

The last time I tried it I still ate rye and a few other gluten grains not realizing.  This time I was really strict,  took out all gluten.

Me: And a few years later you started working at Ward’s…

KW: Yeah, I was in school then.  At the time we didn’t even have a natural foods section.  So my boss and I started that and it just grew over the years.

Me: Before that, where would you get natural foods?

KW: I wouldn’t.  I  literally didn’t eat a sandwich for 10 years because the food that was out there was terrible. It was worse than eating nothing.

Me: Even up until a few years ago it was pretty bad.

KW: It’s really gotten better in the last 5 years.

Me: How do you find out about the products that you end up selling?

KW: *Points to enormous stack of paper in her inbox* That’s my inbox of product literature.   I get stuff like that all the time, and get notifications about new products from several trade orgs, solicitations direct from companies, notifications from trade mags.  I search around, I hear rumors…

Me: Do they send you samples?

KW: Yes.  I’m pretty firm about about trying something before I’ll try to sell it because there’s just so much crap on the market. I don’t want to have something out on the shelf peple pay good money for – gluten-free food is expensive – and have it not be good.

Me: You were the one who got (local pizza place) Satchel’s to sell gluten-free pizza from Sami’s Bakery.  How did you hear about Sami’s?

KW: That was an accident. I went to visit my uncle in Naples and my cousin is gluten-free and went to the health food store and came back with this amazing millet and flax bread and I hunted it down and got it for the store.

I wrote Satchel a letter a few years ago just begging him to bring it in.  Because you know, that was my first pizza other than homemade in I don’t even know how long.

ME: That was really cool for me too, to go in there and order a GF pizza at a restaurant – although he says he worries about cross contamination.

KW: If you’re really sensitive, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Because it’s impossible to get it clean enough. I don’t know if you’ve seen the kitchen, but it’s really small and they do a tremendous amount of business.   They’re really good – they try to wipe off the  stone, use a separate cutter and stuff. But I have definitely felt glutened after eating it.

Me: Me too. Actually, last week I bought the same Sami’s crust from here in the store and then I felt a lot better. And also I feel like I saved a lot of money!

KW: Yeah, you did!

ME: Does your family eat gluten-free too?

KW: My mom does but she hasn’t gotten herself diagnosed, so she sometimes cheats. My sister goes off and on but she just resolved for 2011 to stick to it because she’s been having some health problems.

ME: What about people who aren’t gluten intolerant or celiac but go on the diet.  Do you think it’s beneficial to them?

KW: It depends on what they’re eating because a lot of the gluten-free foods are rice or rice flour-based or tapioca flour-based and that’s not good for anybody’s blood sugar. So if they’re doing it and opting instead for whole grains, then probably it’s going to make them feel great. But if they’re doing it and they’re eating a lot of Pamela’s cookies and pancakes, then they’re probably going to feel the same as they always do.

Me: Plus it’s so high in calories

KW: Yeah, really concentrated.

Me: Any new products coming in that you’re excited about?

KW: I just found gluten-free pita bread, the first I’ve seen available in our area.  There are some good new cinnamon rolls, too.

Me: Udi’s?

KW: Udi’s are good but these other ones are even better. Heaven Mills, a bakery up in New York.  They ship it fresh and I have to freeze it.

The best cookies we’ve had lately are the Wow cookies.

Me: Haven’t had those.

KW: They’re amazing

Me: I’m gonna get some before I leave!

KW: What else is good…there’s some new pasta –  Japanese style soba noodles.  There’s black rice, pumpkin brown rice ginger, seaweed brown rice, some really interesting flavors.   And a new black bean pasta. Only black beans – it contains 20 grams of protein per serving.

Not squid ink - pure black bean

Me: What kind of sauce would you put on that?

KW: I made a stir fry with it. Spicy tofu and broccoli.

Me: What’s your favorite gluten-free product you sell?

KW: I really like the Sami’s garlic crackers. I eat those frequently. And the Sami’s spinach pie is a staple for lunch *holds it up*.  The thing I got most excited about this year was the Wow cookies. The brownies are so fudgy…

Me: Well thank you. I really appreciate you speaking with me.

KW: Thank you!


By the way, I did grab a pack of WOW snickerdoodles before I left the store.  They are “crazy good,” as Whipple said.




A Gluten-free Conversation with Satchel Raye

That’s right, the Satchel, owner and namesake of the ESPN-recognized Satchel’s Pizza here in Gainesville.  The pizza is tasty, the deep-dish is incredible, the salad is addictive, and the millet and flax crust is the ultimate indulgence.  You can only order a full-size “gluten-free” pizza (more on that later), so every time I order one I happily eat cold pizza for a week.

Satchel’s is one of the few restaurants here in town with a worthwhile gluten-free option, even if it’s not technically 100 percent GF. (I’ve been lucky enough not to get sick off of it).

I talked to Satchel about the inception of their millet and flax pies and why we should all be grateful it’s even on the menu.  Check it out below:

How long have you been serving gluten-free pizza at Satchel’s?

Oh, I can’t remember for sure.   Maybe 2 or 3 years at least.

Is the dough homemade or brought in?

We could not make a gluten-free product very well simply because our prep room is tiny and we make lots of gluten full products there, like our pizza dough. We buy it from Sami’s Bakery.  They ship them to us weekly.

What made you start serving it?

A customer who works at Ward’s, who is gluten intolerant, brought one in and suggested we sell them. Since my mother in-law has Celiac Disease, and I knew many people were gluten intolerant, I thought it would be a great idea. At first we were buying 4 or 5 a week from Ward’s, and soon they were popular enough to get straight from Sami’s.

Has it been a hit? I certainly love treating myself to a Pineapple and Sausage GF pizza once in awhile.

It has mostly been a huge success.  We sell about 50 per week now and even people who eat gluten like the crunchy sweetness of the millet and flax crust. We used to call them our “gluten-free” pizza, but we had a woman come through who is highly sensitive to wheat and got sick from eating them. She informed us that while she can only tolerate 1 part per 2000 of wheat, the Sami’s crusts are about 1 part per 200 wheat, (or some such ratio,) and she said that since Sami’s isn’t a gluten-free bakery that there food is not entirely gluten-free.

Exactly how safe do you think the pizza is, in terms of cross contamination? I know there’s a warning on the menu, but I’ve never gotten sick from it. Do you take steps to keep it away from glutenous pizza?

Well, I know there are products out there that would be more gluten-free but from what I’ve tasted none of them are great pizza crust alternatives to the one we use currently. Also, since our kitchen has gluten floating all over it, even if we got an entirely gluten-free crust that I approved of, there is no way to ensure it wouldn’t be contaminated in our facility.  So, I decided to stick with what we have, call them a millet and flax crust, and let people know that they contain traces of gluten. We use different peels to make them on, we wipe down the oven stone, and we try and stop spinning pies when they are heading out of the kitchen. We try to make sure they stay as gluten-free as possible but there are limits inside a small pizza kitchen.

Has anyone ever complained that they got sick?

Over the last few years I have heard of 2 people complaining of getting sick from the millet and flax pies. Both were obviously highly intolerant to gluten. Of course, as owner of a restaurant the last thing I want to hear is someone has gotten sick from our food so it is sad. But that’s why we have the warning to customers. We are always trying to make the pizzas with less possibility of contamination from the gluten , but even the product is not 100 percent gluten-free.

How about positive comments?

We have so many people compliment us on this pie. There are folks practically in tears over eating a pizza for the first time in so many years. There are health nuts who are happy to have a more healthy option. Lots and lots of positive feedback on this.

Any plans for more GF offerings?  Your homemade desserts always look so delicious!

We do vegan desserts from time to time and they don’t always sell so good. I have not considered a gluten-free dessert mostly because our baker is so busy keeping up with the dessert menu we already have.  Not to mention that there is the added chance for contamination of gluten. But, I never say never, so it may be something we try in the future.

I know a few people who’d love to not have to order an entire pizza.  Could a smaller serving, perhaps a personal sized pizza, ever be possible?

You know, the restaurant business is crazy… Our food cost is supposed to be 25 percent to allow us to cover the labor and overhead and come out with a profit later. If we put this formula to the millet and flax pizza it would be $16 before we ever put sauce or cheese or toppings on it. It is very expensive to buy and have shipped to us.  So, unfortunately, there is not much of a chance I can see of making a smaller portion.  Seems to me that gluten intolerant people would love to have a couple extra meals in the fridge for the days ahead.  When this pie was something we sold 10 per week of as a bonus to our customers we could take the hit on the cost, but now we are making so many, the cost will have to go up. We can’t have a lot of items that we don’t make money on.

Right now we are well over 50 percent food cost on the millet and flax pies and also our deep dish pies. So, these are specialty items that we will have to raise prices on to continue to be profitable and also have products people want. This is a very difficult aspect to the job, raising prices when I know that people have tight budgets, but in the end it is best if we stay open, have a place the community enjoys, offer great jobs, and are able to pay the bills. The items that will be hardest are the ones that cost so much to make.  Trying to keep one of these millet and flax pies around to cut slices from is just not a viable option since there is so much flour floating around the kitchen and it is trouble to keep them free of gluten as we make them. We’re trying to keep it simple and selling them as we do is the best thing we have come up with so far.


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