Gluten Free Concepts owes its existence to a single sentinel event; a life changing diagnosis of celiac disease. When David Jensen walked out of the doctor’s office that day in April 2007, he had the answer to what had caused him many years of digestive problems, and a huge challenge ahead of him; how to eliminate the gluten contained in wheat, rye, and barley from his diet without giving up the foods he loved. Dave and his wife Debbie were incredibly intimidated, now faced with the prospect of giving up all foods made with grain containing gluten.
In addition to the obvious products that contain wheat flour such as bread, cookies, cake, etc. one visit to the local super market and some label reading unveiled a multitude of products that were unexpectedly found to contain gluten. Cake frosting, tomato soup, salad dressing, canned chili, and vitamins, were just a few foods they found that had a gluten containing ingredient listed somewhere on the label.
Dave and Debbie are lucky enough to live near a store that has a "nutrition center" with about ¼ of a small aisle devoted to gluten free products. They traveled to Fred Meyer to see what products were on the shelves there. What they found were cookies, crackers, pasta, mixes, and bread that were much more expensive than regular products. Some of the products looked strange - some looked similar to wheat products - but they all tasted very different.
The bread was the most disappointing of all. When Dave bought a loaf to try, he found it hard, dry, and smelling of chemicals. He told Debbie that he thought the wrapper probably would have tasted better. On the next trip to the store, Debbie bought a bread mix to try. The finished product tasted more like bread, but it sank down in the middle after it baked, and it was very crumbly when she sliced it. Dave started to wonder if he’d ever be able to eat a sandwich for lunch again.
This initial failure brought out Debbie’s instincts as a baker. She had learned to bake from her grandmother more than 40 years before, so baking bread from a recipe seemed like a natural next step. A few hours of internet research turned up information on available cookbooks, recipes, and the location of Bob’s Red Mill, a company with an extensive line of alternative flours. Some of the loaves made in those early weeks might have passed for doorstops, and others were little more than collections of bread crumbs. It would have been easy to give up, but Debbie kept saying to Dave, "there’s got to be a way to make good bread without gluten."
With Dave as a willing and enthusiastic taster, she just kept trying. Internet research on all things gluten free, particularly the chemistry of baking without wheat, rye, or barley, became Debbie’s regular lunch break pastime. Debbie started to experiment with adjusting recipes by changing the types of flour used, or the proportions of flours to liquids, adding new ingredients, and checking to see whether the results were what she expected or not. Soon, the bread she made began to taste so good that even friends who didn’t have a problem with gluten looked forward to samples. The idea that there could be a business in baking gluten free bread and buns began to take form.
In the course of investigating gluten free baking in the Portland area, and what events might be happening in the Celiac world, Dave and Debbie came across information about the GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group) National Conference scheduled for June 2009, in nearby Seattle. Attending the conference gave them both the opportunity to meet and network with many people who live a gluten free lifestyle, and the companies who make products for them.
What had barely been the seed of an idea to start a commercial bakery sprouted that weekend as a multitude of conversations yielded the same sentiments. "I just wish I could go into a restaurant and order a hamburger," "Why can’t gluten free bread products actually taste like bread?" "If only I could buy hamburger buns in the store that taste good," were comments they heard over and over again. Gluten free food vendors from all over the country assembled in several meeting rooms at the conference, bringing with them many kinds of bakery items.
As Dave and Debbie sampled their way through the displays, it became apparent that most did not fulfill the promise of tasting as good as wheat flour versions. They returned home from the Seattle committed to starting a bakery and finding a way to distribute gluten free bread, buns and other bakery items to all who want and need them.
In May of 2009, Gluten Free Concepts L.L.C. was formed, and the idea of Jensen's Bread and Bakeries began to take shape as Dave and Debbie learned the commercial bakery business. They found the perfect production facility in South East Portland in February 2010 and were finally able to move in on May 7th. A month (and many hours of elbow grease) later, they started in production.