In Owensboro, Those with Celiac Disease Don't Have to Go Without Goodies

Sep 27, 2012

At first glance, this small shop off of Frederica Street looks like any ordinary bakery. The cakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls on display seem like they fit right in with the kinds of treats you’d find anywhere else. To prove that point, Nancy Faulkner described for a visiting reporter the items scheduled to be picked up on a recent Friday afternoon.

“The first thing I have here are dairy-free, gluten-free cupcakes for a little girl who is having a birthday this weekend," said Faulkner. "Next to that is a red velvet, three-tier, gluten-free, dairy-free birthday cake for some nice lady here in Owensboro. I can’t tell who it is because it’s a big surprise."

Faulkner is the owner and baking guru at Gluten Free Goodies in Owensboro. As its name suggests, Gluten Free Goodies provides the type of desserts and treats that those suffering from celiac disease can usually only dream about.

Living with Celiac

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine thought to affect one in every 133 Americans. The disease is caused by a reaction to a gluten protein found in wheat, and similar proteins found in grains such as rye and barley. The only way to treat the disease is to avoid gluten at all costs.

Faulkner understands this first-hand. In the mid 1980’s, she was constantly sick, experiencing rapid weight loss, joint pain, and extreme fatigue. Finally, after doctors ruled out a host of other maladies, she was diagnosed with celiac.

“Of course, your first thought is ‘what in the world am I going to eat?’, because gluten is in everything,” she says.

Faulkner says finding gluten-free cooking and baking ingredients in the 1980s was a difficult task. She stocked up on rice flour. She ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for weeks until she started feeling better. Faulkner and her husband didn’t eat out at restaurants for two years, in order to avoid her coming into contact with gluten.

Then, Faulkner and her husband moved to Owensboro to be closer to her daughter and grandson. She began hearing from others about the lack of local options for gluten-free items. This past May, she opened for business, and has been busy ever since, with some extremely loyal customers making regular treks from as far away as Nashville, Bowling Green, Lexington, and Evansville.

Goodies Made with Exotic-Sounding Ingredients

The kitchen that produces the goodies that make these customers keep coming back is well-stocked with all the essentials for gluten-free baking: sorghum flour, millet flour, whole-grain brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and white rice flour are just a few of the items Faulkner has on hand.

So what’s the difference, say, between making regular cupcakes with chocolate icing versus making gluten-free cupcakes with chocolate icing? Faulkner says for regular cupcakes, you’re going to cream the sugar with the fat, then add eggs while alternating between flour and liquid.

But for gluten-free cupcakes, the process is totally backward.

Cindy Huston says her 11-year-old son, Mark, views every Thursday as a celebration because he knows he gets to visit Gluten Free Goodies and buy his favorite treat: hot, fresh cinnamon rolls.

“You start out with your flour mixes, and your leavening in a mixing bowl,” says Faulkner. “In another bowl you’d mix all of you wet ingredients and then pour that into your batter, and only blend until combined.”

“And if you don’t do it that way, it will be flat as a fritter. It won’t rise.”

Nancy’s favorite customers are the children that suffer from celiac disease or various food allergies that have prevented them from knowing the joys of sharing a birthday cake, or biting into a hot biscuit fresh out of the oven. One of those special customers is an 11-year-old Owensboro boy named Matthew Huston, who has celiac disease and Down’s syndrome.

A Visit to the Bakery Every Thursday Morning

Matthew's mother, Cindy, says going to Gluten Free Goodies is something Mark looks forward to all week.

“Every Thursday is a celebration,” Cindy says. “He wakes up on Thursdays and says, ‘bakery?’. And he knows on Friday mornings he gets a cinnamon roll—that’s his treat for the week. If we have birthday parties coming up, we know we have a place to come and get a cupcake for him to take.”

“Every time we’re invited to a party or gathering I find out the food they’re serving, so I can take a comparable option for him, so that he’s not eating something different.”

Gluten Free Goodies owner Nancy Faulkner says she’s often asked if she’ll expand to other towns. Her husband is after her to open up a store in Bowling Green.

For now, at least, she’s non-committal.

“My husband is probably two years away from retiring a second time, and we’re still young enough to manage it, so we might. Who knows?”