Ladysmith’s first gluten-free (GF) bakery and bistro opens its doors this week.
The Wild Poppy Bistro will begin serving up a diverse menu of GF baking, sandwiches and light entrees beginning in late July, bistro co-owner Kate Cram said.
Cram, who owns and operates the Old Town Bakery with her husband Geoff, said their decision to branch out into the world of GF cuisine stems from a sensitivity to gluten Cram shares with her two youngest sons.
Kate and her sons were tested for celiac disease — a condition where the lining of the small intestine fails to absorb nutrients properly as a result of exposure to gluten — in 2010. The tests came back negative, but revealed that Kate and her sons suffered from a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). That knowledge led the family to adopt a GF diet, and they’ve been living a wheat-, barley- and rye-free lifestyle ever since.
The perks of a GF diet were tangible, Cram said, adding the emotional and digestive issues she and her sons had been coping with subsided soon after they went gluten-free. Maintaining a GF lifestyle, however, proved to be a challenge whenever the family would attempt to eat out at restaurants.
“My kids, anywhere they go, they’re so limited on what they can have,” Cram said. “So I want [Wild Poppy] to be a place where people can walk in with these restrictions and be limitless. Where they can have a break from reality and try anything that they want and know that it’s safe.”
Faint traces of gluten can trigger reactions in celiac sufferers, so the Crams have decided staff and baked goods will travel in one direction only — from Wild Poppy to Old Town — on any given day to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.
To help staff their new location, Cram said they will hire six additional employees for Wild Poppy.
It remains to be seen if Wild Poppy will create competition for its sister shop.
Cram said she’s perfected a GF cinnamon roll, but a GF, yeast-leavened cinnamon bun similar to Old Town Bakery’s “Island’s best” buns has proved to be a challenge in its own right.
“With GF baking, you have to take everything that you know about regular baking and throw it out the window,” Cram said.
Bakers have to abandon their ritual cycles of kneading dough and letting it rise when working with GF flours, Cram said. Instead, they’re forced to “use the fastest yeast you can use, let it rise once, and throw it in the oven.”
GF foods have increased in popularity in recent years as experts and the public gain a greater appreciation for rising rates of celiac disease and NCGS.
“There is no question that the incidence of celiac disease is rising,” wrote Sue Newell of the Canadian Celiac Association. “A recent study from the Mayo Clinic found a four-fold increase in the rate [of celiac disease] in today’s young men compared to that found in blood samples from soldiers in the late 1940s.”
Better diagnostic procedures take partial credit for the rise of gluten-triggered conditions, but changes to wheat may also play a role.
“Wheat today is different from the wheat of a century ago,” Newell added. “Selective breeding and hybridizing different strains of wheat have been used to select for wheat with shorter stems and more gluten. That is not the same as genetic modification, which inserts foreign genes into the wheat.”
Boosting wheat’s gluten content is thought by at least some experts, including the Mayo Clinic’s Joseph Murray, to be the cause of higher rates of celiac disease and NCGS.
Wild Poppy Bistro is located at the corner of First Avenue and High Street.