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May 8, 2014

Online bakery owners learned to 'Be Happily Gluten Free'

— Luanne Kopco said of her family: “Everything we do is based around food.” And the family that bakes together gets paid together.

Kopco, 56, of Ferndale, joined with her daughter, Jackie Kopco Shawley, 34, of Westmont, to open the online bakery “Be Happily Gluten-Free” in October, on the third floor of Shawley’s Westmont home.

Their dedicated gluten-free kitchen has churned out cookies, hand-iced sugar cookies, gobs, cupcakes and muffins, as well as ethnic goodies like kolachi rolls and nut tassies for customers around the country, including California, Washington, Utah, Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maine.

Hundreds of their cookies even had primetime exposure as giveaways at this year’s Sports Emmy Awards.

“We’re steadily increasing (business). Gluten-free is becoming a big thing now,” said Kopco. “It seems everyone that we mention (the business) to has someone in their family that needs gluten-free (food) - it touches everybody’s lives anymore.”

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, Kopco said. Those with Celiac’s Disease or irritable bowel syndrome may be allergic. Removing gluten from a diet is thought to help treat autism in children or rheumatoid arthritis in seniors and other types of inflammation.

For Shawley, gluten intolerance caused an illness that the family didn’t identify until they changed up recipes. Kopco said she felt guilty that Jackie was excluded from the family’s holiday sweets, so she reengineered all the family formulas to remove gluten.

Kopco, who’s in charge of developing the recipes, uses a blend of different flours and starches - rice, tapioca and potato. Shawley handles all the baking, decorating and designing.

“It’s really hard to find gluten-free products that taste like ‘the real thing,’ ” she said. “But, what we prepare, everybody has told us they cannot tell the difference between ‘the real thing’ and ours.

“Which is our goal.”

Although cutting out gluten hasn’t been officially linked to health issues, Kopco, who doesn’t have a gluten allergy, said she feels physical benefits since going gluten-free and, with their baking talents, she doesn’t miss it in the slightest.

“I feel so much better,” she said. “I have more energy, my mind is clearer - less fatigue.”

The duo needed that newfound mental acuity, Kopco said, when handling a shipment of 900 cookies last week. The goodies were headed to Off the Wall Ideas, which organizes “swag bags” for this year’s Sports Emmy Awards, on May 6 at the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Kopco said they didn’t even have to reach for it - the group researched their online storefront, found at BeHappilyGlutenFree.com. Only about 30 business nationwide were chosen to have their goods packed in the Emmy show bags, Kopco said - businesses that Off the Wall Ideas feels have growth potential, she added.

Kopco said she hopes she and Shawley can move the bakery to a bigger space, or perhaps add a small physical storefront with a dine-in cafe.

“That’s down the road as we grow,” she said. “We opened it up here in her house with the thought that the overhead would be very low until we could get things going and move out and have rent and all that.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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