Tonawanda News

August 18, 2013

NT native abandons retail to kick start gluten-free baking business

By Jessica Brant
The Tonawanda News

— Leap and the net will appear. 

This age-old adage was never fully realized by Christine Goerss-Barton until March, when her spiritual retreat group leader offered her these simple words of wisdom during a spiritual retreat to India. A leap of faith and push from the universe is also what took the North Tonawanda native to India and eventually led her to open her own gluten-free baking company. 

“In November my grandmother passed away. My grandfather, who died shortly before I was born, was born in India because his parents were missionaries. I was doing all of the photo scanning for the memorial, and I (was) seeing all of these pictures of India that came from (my grandfather’s) collection from the 1920s,” Goerss-Barton said. 

Around the same time, she received a Facebook request from a grade school friend who was leading her first spiritual retreat to India. It seemed as though destiny was calling Goerss-Barton, and the decision to go unknowingly became life-transforming for the 28-year-old, who returned to the States anew. She turned down a retail management job offer at the Galleria Mall in order to pursue her dream of opening up a gluten-free bakery. 

“I left knowing I was going to come back to a job offer that I accepted at the mall, which wasn’t a bad job, but I think my heart really wasn’t in it,” Goerss-Barton said after reflecting on her trip. 

On the first night of the spiritual retreat, the group found a cafe to sit in and enjoy their first genuine taste of India in Rishikesh, an Indian country where by law, all food is vegetarian and cows are a sacred animal, free to roam the streets, Goerss-Barton learned. While eating at the cafe, she observed how simply and peacefully the country’s natives lived. 

“The café was actually inside the hotel. There were two guys at the desk, and we went in and ate our food. We kind of just got our bearings. It was our first night in town,” she said while reflecting on her trip. “And then we’re leaving and we have to walk out through the little front office of the hotel again. And these guys were sleeping on their beds, which were just mats on the ground and their office, where they worked, and lived, was also their bedroom. It just reminded me that we really don’t need much to live. We just think we do.” 

The uplifting spiritual journey tested the conceptual artist — she attended the University at Buffalo and majored in art history — and yoga devotee — she can strike a mean tree and downward dog pose — through physical and mental challenges. She survived the feat of climbing Triund, a sacred mountain in the city of Dharmsala, and participated in the tradition of Moksha, a mantra for spiritual cleansing in the Ganges River. 

The life-changing experience became a now or never opportunity to brand her gluten-free baked goods to the rest of the world, and under a new business name Deenie Bakes.

While living with gluten intolerance — the inability to digest gluten, a protein found in foods like bread, pasta and cookies — most of her life, Goerss-Barton has found great substitutes to work with, such as brown rice flour in place of wheat flour and Tapioca in place of starches. 

Gluten-free “Twinkies,” bread, and a play on “Nutter Butter” cookies, which she calls her “Notter Butter” cookies, are specialties courtesy of Deenie Bakes. Currently, her vegan doughnuts, gluten-free Twinkies, and bread are all being sold at the Lexington Co-Op in Buffalo. 

Goerss-Barton believes the growth in popularity of the gluten-free food market can be attributed to a greater self-awareness of gluten intolerance. 

“A theory to why gluten intolerance is on the rise now is that maybe it always has (existed) and people are just learning more about it now,” she said. “And maybe a lot of things have been misdiagnosed for a while when people were really gluten-intolerant, or had full-blown Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine).”

Those choosing to go gluten-free on their own are probably doing so because it’s seems like a healthier route, says Goerss-Barton.

“Modern forms of wheat have been bred to be so weather-resistant to bugs, that they have very high starch and gluten, which makes them very hard for our bodies to break down and very hard to digest.”

As with every new business venture, there is a degree of risk-taking involved. According to the Small Business Administration, more than 50 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years. In his book, “Small Business Management,” author Michael Ames lists lack of experience, insufficient capital, and poor location as the top three reasons why small businesses fail. Such deterring factors serve as motivation for Goerss-Barton. 

“I’m approaching it reasonably. That’s why I don’t have a (store front) right away because I’d rather build up a branch first and make sure my recipes are basically perfect and that my quality is really awesome,” she said. “I want to establish a good repertoire with the community before I take that leap and open a place and put money into the place itself.” 

Goerss-Barton has already established a sound reputation with family and friends, who have nothing but praises and good sentiments to throw her way. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of Christine for taking on this amazing leap of faith,” said Lindsay Kranz, Christine’s friend and former co-worker. “I have to say I was definitely surprised when I tried her products. I’ve had gluten-free products before, but I could always tell they were gluten-free. When I tried Christine’s, I couldn’t tell. I’ve loved everything I tried.”

Goerss-Barton has received certification from the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets to be a home processor and work from her own kitchen in Cheektowaga. She is also booked to sell her goods at next year’s Queen City Market and is looking into selling regularly at a local farmer’s market. Presently, she is focused on developing her brand. 

The gluten-free baker is taking life a leap at a time, confident that the net will continue to catch her. 

“(That advice) was so true though. We’re really trained more to question our gut than to follow it. And I saw everyday people (in India) following their gut because they were doing what they had to do to survive, so (I thought), why am I denying this (dream)? You only live once.” 

To contact Deenie Bakes, email Dennie.bakes@gmail.com.