Gluten-free stores offer shoppers freedom from label-reading


ORANGE, Calif. -- When Bridget Reilly and her young son began eating gluten-free, she also began to find grocery shopping a real headache. So many labels to read, so much food her family didn’t really like and she didn’t really like feeding them.

“I was driving around to four different stores every week and reading all the labels,” Reilly says.

Her alternative was to open a store, which she did. It’s called the Bite Market, and everything is gluten- and dairy-free. It sits in the Orange business district, among lots of antique shops and not far from Chapman University – the source of some of her business.


Her store is one of very few in the area that stocks all gluten-free food. In Woodland Hills, Sugar Free Markets was conceived to accommodate diabetics, but it’s also gluten-free and carries a range of baked goods, including hard-to-find challah. Another store, Pam MacD’s Gluten-Free Market, is on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, just a short distance from a well-known temple of gluten, Porto’s Bakery & Cafe.

Pam MacDonald opened her store more than two years ago. She has been gluten-free since 1996, and shares Reilly’s frustration with label vigilance. She recalls shopping for gluten-free bread years ago, and being stuck with “some little loaf of bread in some odd little store in the back of the freezer.”

She tastes everything she stocks in the store, and refuses to sell foods she thinks are not good enough. Breads can be problematic – they’re often better toasted, and sometimes they fall apart.

“It’s a mousetrap that still needs some improving,” MacDonald says.

Reilly says she tries to stock as many local products as possible, including honey and baked goods. She also carries the bigger gluten-free brands, such as Udi’s baked goods. She also got a permit that will allow her to soon stock what she bakes at home.

Reilly hasn’t been diagnosed with celiac disease. But she says that when she tried a gluten-free diet her headaches, joint pain and other problems abated. Her son, at age 3, had a cold that just wouldn’t go away. He’s 12 now, and after giving up gluten and dairy, doesn’t have that problem anymore.

It’s estimated that 1 in about 130 people have celiac disease and become very ill if they eat gluten – which is found in wheat, barley and rye. But as many as a third of Americans avoid it because they feel better without it or have decided their diet is healthier that way.

The landscape for gluten-free food has greatly improved, but it’s not perfect, MacDonald says. “I would kill for a croissant. I would give the Nobel Peace Prize for one.”


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