A small retail area in the front means customers can come to the bakery and purchase the full range of its products. It’s Southern comfort food at its most bountiful, including cheese straws available in original, jalapeno, and white cheddar and chive flavors; and buttermilk biscuits sold frozen, so they can be baked to order.
The founder is Marilyn Santulli, diagnosed in 2007 with a profound gluten intolerance. Ready for a change from her career as a corporate spokeswoman, and shocked by the poor quality and taste of the gluten-free products she found on the market, she found a new passion.
Marilyn Santulli began her gourmet baked goods business when she couldn’t find gluten-free products that met her expectations. CONTRIBUTED BY JEFF FRANKEL/KISSED WITH LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
“I could not believe it was so difficult to find a ready-made gluten-free cake, bread or muffin that was good enough to buy the second time around,” Santulli said. “I quickly realized there was a need to provide better alternatives.”
She set out to create them, starting with adapting a family fruitcake recipe.
“I grew up perched on a stool watching relatives, an aunt in particular, and my Mississippi grandmother, rolling out biscuits every morning,” she said. “And, watching my mom make fruitcake. I adapted their recipes by taking out the wheat flour. Gluten-free means baking without products containing wheat, barley or rye.”
She likened it to a science experiment, tinkering with flours made from rice, potato and tapioca. “My mission was always to create products people would never guess were gluten-free,” she said. Her experiments took months.
Later that year, she started selling her fruitcake at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. The fruitcake soon was joined by cheese straws and graham crackers, as well as brownies, muffins and cakes.
Initially, she baked in a restaurant kitchen rented in the evenings, when the restaurant was closed, then moved into commercial baking space. Her team now includes a senior full-time baker and his staff, assistants and several packagers.
Cheese straws, available in three flavors, are one of the company’s biggest sellers. CONTRIBUTED BY JEFF FRANKEL/KISSED WITH LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
“My husband Paul is production manager, responsible for making sure we meet safety and certification requirements, plus warehouse and shipping procedures,” Santulli said. “Everyone works together for the common vision and advancement of the company. I am particularly grateful for the respect they have for the ‘no cross contamination’ rule. Our people do not bring lunches that contain gluten to the bakery. I couldn’t ask for a better crew, and they are the reason we’re able to sell our products across the country.”
Her first wholesale contract was with Whole Foods Market. “In 2008, I took a product to the grocery buyer at the Sandy Springs location,” she said. “He sampled and loved it.”
Now, her products are sold regionally at Whole Foods and Kroger, and are available at many Atlanta area stores, including Piece of Cake, Alon's Bakery and Mercier Orchards. They're sold online through QVC, as well as on the bakery's website.
Like any intrepid entrepreneur, Santulli is not through growing her business. “It’s been many years of dedicated hard work, with tons of trial and error, to get to this point,” she said. “We feel poised to be one of the nation’s leading purveyors of gluten-free gourmet desserts and specialty snacks. And, we’re proud to offer products that we know are safe for those who need to be gluten-free.”
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.