Gluten-free baker goes full time in growing business

Aug. 31, 2023

The owner of Gluten Free Please has decided to turn her part-time venture into a full-time job.

Jennifer Johnson left a career in banking to go all-in on the business she started in 2021.

“Between filling online orders and store orders, answering customers’ questions and going to farmers markets and festivals, I felt like I was doing a disservice to Gluten Free Please by not going full time,” she said.

“They say timing is everything, and I felt the timing was right. The bank I was working at was doing well, and I left like I was leaving them in a good position.”

Gluten Free Please now sells at Sioux Falls Chef and Plum’s Cooking Co. in Sioux Falls, Branding Iron Bistro in Pierre and The Country Apple Orchard in Harrisburg.

New products launched this year include a pie crust mix that’s sugar-free and egg-free along with being gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and nut-free.

The hope is to add a sandwich bread mix this fall, Johnson said.

“We had sold more baking mixes in the first quarter of this year than we had sold in all last year,” she said. “Every month, we sell more mixes than we do the month prior. To me, that is a good indicator of growth and that people are happy we are helping them.”

When she first went gluten-free 18 years ago, few people knew what it meant, she said.

“Eating out was a nightmare and going grocery shopping was another nightmare,” she said. “I’d be so hungry some days and not know what to eat or what to do — hence I started making my own mixes. If someone did know about gluten, it was because someone they knew had celiac disease. Now today, so many more people are going gluten-free, not just celiac patients.”

Gluten-free eating has attracted people who have everything from arthritis and inflammation to irritable bowel disease or syndrome and infertility issues to an autoimmune disorder or allergies, Johnson said.

“They are tired of not feeling good, and they want to be healthier. Some people complain of GI pain and nausea, joint pain, hives and/or fatigue when they eat gluten. They feel better when they stay away from gluten.”

That also has been a focus since the pandemic as people focus on healthier eating, she added.

“And with the extended shelf life of Gluten Free Please mixes, I think they are going to become a popular choice,” she said.

“When we handcraft Gluten Free Please mixes in our gluten-free commercial kitchen, the flours are flying! We end up with flour everywhere. A company cannot say they are gluten-free when they share equipment with a company that is not gluten-free, especially when flours are in the air. So there is still a lot of education that needs to be done, but I do think things have come a long way.”

For now, she’s working with the help of family – and occasionally even customers.

“I sent a message on Facebook yesterday asking for volunteers to make and review the new sandwich bread mix, and I received 33 messages in 12 hours,” she said.

Her customers have ranged from toddlers with allergies to college students and older adults, she said.

 “I am the worst critic when it comes to a new recipe,” Johnson said.

“If it doesn’t taste good or look good or if I have a reaction to a recipe or an ingredient, then it gets thrown out or given away, and then I start all over. Having a new mix come out on the market is important to us. We look forward to continued growth and learning, especially as customers’ needs change and as the industry evolves.”

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