Healthy bakery opens doors in Mt. Pleasant

| Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Gluten Free Oven is now open and in full operational swing, becoming the first bakery in the area to offer gluten-free and casein-free fresh baked products.

Owned and operated by Marie Murphy and Jeffrey Ehrlich, the Mt. Pleasant bakery offers an array of selections, all made fresh in the on-site bakery by baker Lisa Bower.

Bower, who has enjoyed baking her entire life, was diagnosed with celiac sprue disease over 10 years ago, and found that she was no longer able to enjoy her own baked goods because of the gluten content.

"It was a life-changing diagnosis for me because I really enjoyed my breads, pastas and baked goods," Bower said, adding that any gluten-free products she then tried were not to her liking. "The breads were like eating sand-filled cardboard; the pastas tasted like dirt and everything was gritty. I gave up eating all the food that I once enjoyed."

Celiac disease affects about 3 million Americans and is a problem that people have when they eat any foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in bread, crackers and pasta.

"If you suffer from celiac disease, your immune system attacks the gluten and can then harm your small intestine," Bower explained. "When you have celiac disease and eat these types of foods, it is harder for your body to absorb nutrients that keep you healthy."

Murphy, who also owns and operates Marie's Pizza, was approached years ago by a patron who requested she try to carry a pizza dough that was gluten-free for those who suffered from celiac.

"I started to realize that there was a real need in this area for these products," Murphy said of gluten-free items, "so I thought that I'd look into it."

Murphy and Ehrlich then attended Westmoreland County Community College, taking gluten-free baking classes and nutrition classes.

After taking the classes, they approached Bower who had been honing her own recipes, creating gluten-free baked goods.

"One day I took out my old recipe box and sat down and rewrote my own gluten-free recipe using a variety of gluten-free flours," Bower said. "With patience and determination, I was able to make baked goods that tasted just like I remembered."

Using many of Bower's recipes and creating a few new ones, The Gluten Free Oven offers cookies, pepperoni rolls, popovers, mini fruit pies, breads, buns, croutons, biscuits, cakes and cupcakes. It also carries a full line of frozen items and mixes for customers to take home and make in their own kitchens.

Other items that can be specially ordered include brownies, filled cookies and an assortment of other baked goods.

Frozen pizza dough is also offered at the bakery.

Starting at 6 every morning, Bower begins to bake fresh items for the shop, making certain there is a fresh selection every day.

"This was a long, long time in coming to this area," customer Ruth Testa of Champion said, adding that she met Murphy and Ehrlich at the WCCC cooking classes and was anxious for the bakery to open. "Every day that I went past here I would look to see if they were open yet."

Testa also suffers from celiac disease and was thrilled to finally have a place to purchase fresh, boxed mix and frozen goods she could enjoy. "Everything that I have tried so far is excellent. This is really fabulous," she said.

The bakery is a totally committed establishment, meaning there is no chance of cross-contamination.

"That is a key selling point for us," Murphy said of their alleviating any chance of cross-contamination or exposing their products to anything with gluten. "We are very, very, very dedicated and strict."

Murphy stressed that eating the gluten-free products is not only beneficial to those who suffer from celiac disease, but also good for the average customer.

"Eating gluten-free is a better way of eating period," Murphy said. "It's good for the heart, it lowers blood pressure and it's good for people with heart conditions. It's really all about eating for better health and getting to eat wonderful fresh foods that can help you get healthy and stay healthy."

The Gluten Free Oven, located at 125 W. Main St. in Mt. Pleasant, is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. A formal grand opening celebration will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For details or to place orders, call 724-542-4457.

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