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11,000-mile road trip sparks gluten-free bakery
Photos and Story by James Hill
Taking wheat – and gluten – out of his diet during a 2005 illness, led Chris Gumke to found New Cascadia Traditional LLC in Northwest Portland. Since 2007, the bakery has produced handcrafted, artisan gluten-free breads and baked goods – the first gluten-free retail bakery in the city.
Gumke and Teresa Atkins decided to put down roots in Portland after the Detroit, Mich., couple sold their house in 2006 in preparation for a new place and new life.
“I think I was looking to change careers,” said Gumke, a former physical therapist. “And I’ve always been a connoisseur of hand-made, artisan breads. Then I developed this issue of gluten intolerance.”
During that illness in 2005, he lost a lot of weight and felt exhausted much of the time. Removing wheat from his diet provided a path back to wellness, almost immediately. But for someone who loves good breads and baked goods as much as he does, life seemed to shine less brightly. “Teresa came to the rescue,” Gumke said.
Atkins, his wife and a former director for a Detroit youth program, began experimenting in their Michigan kitchen with gluten-free cookies and other baked goodies. When the two hit the road to Portland by way of Georgia, New Mexico and all points in between, they had an “ah-ha” moment.
“We covered a lot of ground checking out bakeries in small towns and big cities around the country,” said Gumke of his quest for quality gluten-free breads and bakery goods. “I realized that what we were making at home in our kitchen was so much better than what was commercially available.”
Once they hit Portland, they turned to the Small Business Development Center at Portland Community College to help them determine what it would take to start their own business. The one-day Introduction to Small Business course provided information about a new program, “Taking Your Recipe to Market,” developed by PCC and Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center. With sponsorship from New Seasons Market, it was set to start in September 2006 and Gumke and Atkins decided to sign up.
Atkins eventually found work with another entrepreneur, selling goods at a local farmers market to get the lay of the land for their own endeavor. Their initial idea was to produce and distribute gluten-free cookie dough, but work with the SBDC and research on their own led them to the current concept. They decided to establish a dedicated gluten-free bakery that produces handcrafted, artisan breads and baked goods – safe for those who have celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant. The bakery now offers a line of approximately 25 items that includes croissants, cookies, cupcakes, foccacia, pizzas, pies and more.
They opened their retail outlet in Northwest Portland and continue to sell their products to area grocers, at farmers markets and soon online at their Web site: www.newcascadiatraditional.com. Networking through the SBDC helped connect them with another gluten-free baker with whom they share commercial kitchen space. They’ve also hired a baker, the first employee of the new company.
“We try to have fun and try not to let things worry us too much,” said Atkins of the couple’s busy new life. “I think we work really well together as a team.”
The Small Business Development Center (2025 Lloyd Center Mall) of Portland Community College offers classes, technical assistance and one-on-one counseling for small business. It is supported by PCC, the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department and the U.S. Small Business Administration. It is part of a statewide network of Small Business Development Centers at numerous locations throughout Oregon. For more information, call (503) 978-5080.