Gresham shop caters to customers with various allergies

When you live with a dietary restriction, dining out is far from enjoyable and sometimes impossible.

But when you find a place that serves good food within your limitations, the experience is, well, liberating.

“People come in here and get over-the-top emotional because they may be having their first cinnamon roll in 20 years,” said Tonda Burgin, co-owner of Liberated Baking in Gresham. “And I way underestimated how far people would go for a gluten-free scone, so this is very gratifying.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Tonda Burgin and Christopher Royce opened Liberated Baking as a way to offer foods made specifically for the dietary restrictions of people with gluten and dairy allergies. Burgins daughter was diagnosed with gluten intolerance five years ago.

For those with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, the cozy bakery on Southeast Burnside Road is like stumbling into nirvana. There’s a modest supply of gluten-free packaged products and beverages, but what causes customers’ jaws to drop is a menu with nothing but sandwiches and sweet treats created specifically for them. Cinnamon rolls, four-layer cakes, cookies, muffins and gargantuan sandwiches made with certified gluten-free deli meats offer those intolerant of wheat to eat the way they once did.

The brainchild of Burgin and her business partner, Christopher Royce, Liberated Baking came about after Burgin learned her oldest daughter was allergic to wheat. Finding gluten-free products that tasted good proved to be a challenge, which led Burgin to try her hand at gluten-free cooking and baking.

“When we first got the diagnosis, we spent a small fortune on things that just molded in the pantry,” she said. “Nobody would eat them. So I started baking bread and found that I had a talent for it.”

As Burgin learned more about the gluten-free diet and how to prepare meals for her daughter, she discovered she was far from alone in finding appealing foods. She found herself talking to customers at the former Lillian’s Natural Market, where she and Royce worked at the time, and recognized a high demand for gluten-free products.

“People don’t realize that anything requiring a thickener has wheat in it,” she said. “Gravy, barbecue sauce, even Red Vines (licorice) have wheat. Chris and I both saw a need to fill, so when I decided to open a gluten-free bakery, he offered to help.”

Burgin “test baked” for two years before opening the doors to Liberated Baking last February. She tweaked recipes from specialty cookbooks and quickly learned that the balance in ingredients was the key to producing meals her daughter and family would eat.

“There was a lot of trial and error in finding the right combination of flours and starches to achieve the right texture,” Burgin said. “People don’t like gluten-free foods because they say they don’t taste good. But it’s actually the texture that’s the issue. I’m always test baking, when we’re closed, and it might take four tries before it works. This is just a more complicated style of baking.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - The bakery's pastries are 100 percent gluten-free, including its signature cinnamon rolls. Wednesday is Vegan Day, featuring pastries that are dairy-free.  But Liberated Baking also caters to those with dairy allergies. Wednesday is Vegan Day, Burgin said, when she lays out a wide spread of sweet treats devoid of dairy products.

“We always have some things in the case, but Wednesday, there are cupcakes, cookies, dairy-free brownies and muffins,” she said.

Burgin concedes that specialty foods for gluten-free diets can cause some sticker shock. The reason, she explained, is because wheat and corn grown in the United States are subsidized by the government, meaning folks are already paying part of the production costs through their tax dollars. In order to be 100 percent gluten-free, Burgin must use completely unprocessed ingredients.

“It’s not that we’re greedy because we have a niche,” she said. “We just pay more for our ingredients.”

Burgin is a lifelong Gresham resident and Centennial High School graduate. The bakery, she said, has developed a “loyal following” of dairy- and wheat-intolerant customers, but also those without dietary restrictions who just enjoy the food. With the only other gluten-free bakery 14 miles away, Burgin believes she is giving something back to the place she calls home.

“We have a very loyal following,” she said. “Usually, it’s somebody who has gone gluten-free and they bring somebody with them who isn’t allergic. We see all of them. But people ask me all the time, ‘Why aren’t you doing this somewhere else, where you can make a lot more money?’ This is my community. These are the people I want to serve.”

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