Today we’re excited to feature one of our own: Noreen Fitzmaurice has been a member of the CeliAct community for years now, and we are excited to share with all of you her gluten-free business, The Celiac Cakery!
The Celiac Cakery is an at-home bakery specializing in gluten-free baked goods, including birthday cakes, donuts and cupcakes. She now makes cakes for all types of celebratory occasions and also is able to cater to a variety of food allergies. Since starting the business, Noreen has expanded it to include classes, gift boxes, and private consultations!
Noreen, a third generation celiac, shared her story with us and it’s both interesting and inspiring. We feel fortunate to have her as a part of this community and are excited to share her journey creating a successful gluten-free business with all of you!
What’s your personal story with Celiac?
I have always known about Celiac Disease. I grew up with my grandmother always having her special bread and meringue for dessert!
According to family legend, my grandmother was the first person in Ireland to be diagnosed with Celiac disease. She was in hospital for another round of tests when Dr Willem Dicke, the Dutch doctor who linked wheat with the symptoms many people were having, came to Ireland to give a lecture. After the talk, my grandmother’s doctor asked him to see a patient who seemed to be experiencing the problems he described. Dr Dicke visited my grandmother and immediately diagnosed her with Celiac Disease. She was 42 years of age at the time and always sick. She went off gluten and was a healthy 91 when she passed away.
My personal celiac gene activated when we moved to the United States and the food was so different that it put stress on my system. Luckily, I knew immediately what had happened and didn’t have to suffer the fate of many who suffer for years before diagnosis. At this time, there are 9 celiacs in our family and 2 who are also dairy free.
My son, Daniel, was the diagnosis that changed everything. He was 10 when he developed it and, while as an adult, I could manage without bread and cake, there was no way I could ask him to. The American gluten free flours are very different to what we have in Ireland so I made it my mission to learn how to make, with the american flours, delicious food that Dan would not only have to eat, but would want to eat and be able to share with his friends.
Through much reading, trial and error and experimentation I developed the flour mixes and recipes that I use today, although I have to say, that it is always changing. New techniques, new flours become available every day and with each discovery comes improved taste and texture in our baking.
What inspired you to start a gluten-free business?
When my family moved to Raleigh, North Carolina from Georgia we met many more celiacs. My business was conceived one day when we went to a birthday party and the birthday girl blew out the candles on her cake and then had a dry cupcake while everybody else ate her cake. I realized how lucky Daniel had been to have been able always to eat his own birthday cakes and I was determined that other Celiac children should also have that opportunity. I wanted them not only to love the taste of the cake but also the look of it so nobody would know they were eating gluten free cake.
In addition I wanted to make sure that the cakes were reasonably priced so every family could afford them, so I decided on a home bakery and a website so that i would have no overhead costs that I would have to pass on to my customers.
How has The Celiac Cakery grown since it started?
What initially surprised me were the number of adult cakes I ended up making! I hadn’t thought about them at all. Now, gluten free cakes and treats are readily available in shops everywhere but many celiacs are also dairy free, my son Daniel and me included, so I expanded my range to include any food allergies that people might have. The number of people with multiple allergies in increasing, the main culprits besides gluten being dairy, corn, soy and eggs so now when I do just a gluten free cake, it’s almost a surprise.
What other services do you offer besides cakes?
My cooking classes started when clients were asking me to make them bread or pizza crusts etc. I am of the opinion that the more knowledge we have, the better we will feel and I felt that it would be better to teach people how to make delicious food for themselves rather than have them dependent on others for their daily bread. The classes teach basic recipes that can be added to and adjusted as people become more confident in their abilities. My favorite memory of the classes is of an Italian gentleman who was literally standing over the boiling pot of raviolis waiting for them to cook so he could have his first ravioli in 5 years.
The gift boxes appeared a few years later, prompted by all the anxiety that clients would have about going out of town for the holidays and how they would stay healthy. I used to pack similar boxes for Daniel when he went away so the gift box idea was born.
The most popular items on my website are the chocolate cakes and the donuts. The most popular classes are the pasta and pastry classes.
What are your plans for the future of the business?
My plans for the future are to try to increase the number of children who take my cooking classes. It is so important to give them a sense of power, for them to know that they are in control of their condition and are not at the mercy of “gluten free” products in the grocery store.
I also want to continue to work with the local Celiac Support Group to give talks and educate people on what a healthy gluten free diet is and how they can achieve it!
We wish Noreen the best of luck with The Celiac Cakery!
We love hearing about the businesses and projects being started that contribute to the celiac and gluten-free communities. If you or someone you know is doing something interesting, we would love to hear about it!