TRAVERSE CITY — Dealing with food allergies is tough.
Third Coast Bakery has been removing obstacles to tasty treats since 2013. Another hurdle will be cleared this spring.
The bakery — with a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and vegan menu — will be moving its wholesale operation from Leelanau County to Traverse City at the end of January and adding a retail storefront in March or April.
“We want to be a convenient solution,” Third Coast Bakery owner Heather Burson said. “Having gluten intolerance is already enough of an inconvenience.”
Food Allergy Research & Education researchers estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under the age of 18.
Burson bought the vacant building at 523 Munson Ave. in September and started construction shortly after to change its use.
The move into Traverse City was partly to solve the logistical problem of shipping from the business’ commercial kitchen north of Suttons Bay. Burson said the move also will allow Third Coast Bakery to answer the demand for a storefront from customers.
Jessica Edson, co-owner of Edson Foods, said Third Coast Bakery products are “fabulous” and align with the emphasis Edson Foods places on its ingredients.
“I’m really happy for them,” Edson said. “We’re proud to carry their products. We’ve carried their products since they first went into business.”
Burson said the move also was made because space was tight at its kitchen on the TLC Tomato Farm on North Setterbo Road. Third Coast had exhausted the 600-square-foot space. The new building offers more than 2,000 square feet. The number of employees also may double from its current six during summer months.
“We’ve completely outgrown the space,” Burson said. “We couldn’t add another oven if we wanted to.”
The move into Traverse City is a far cry from the origins of the business back in 2013.
Burson began making gourmet specialty baked goods in her home under the Michigan Cottage Food Law.
“I had a recipe and an idea,” she said. “I started testing it at farmers markets and here we are four years later. It lasted about three weeks out of my house. It just exploded.”
From her home, Burson moved to an incubator kitchen space, a 8- by 10-foot space at the Bayside Bakehouse on Cass Road she rented for about a year.
But food demands and cross contamination concerns led Third Coast Bakery to the commercial kitchen in Leelanau County.
“That was a big move for our bakery,” she said. “Moving out of a shared kitchen space allowed us to control the quality of our product. It made us a 100 percent gluten-free bakery.”
Burson said Third Coast adheres to strict U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines regarding its products. She said the facility is totally gluten-, dairy- and soy-free. Eggs are the only non-vegan item used.
Burson, who had a background in broadcasting and marketing — nothing in food preparation, stumbled into specialty baking by necessity. In 2011, then-boyfriend (now husband) J.D. Burson was going through treatments for brain cancer and had difficulty tolerating “a lot of conventional ingredients” in his food.
She started experimenting with products “because there was nothing up here” and then helped make treats for someone with Crohn’s disease who had fewer symptoms with a gluten-free diet.
“Everybody said this is what you need to do for a living,” Burson said.
Third Coast Bakery products are available at stores and restaurants around northern Michigan. A listing is available at www.thirdcoastbakedgoods.com. Customers also can shop online until the retail space opens in March or April, the second part of Burson’s two-phase plan.
While running an allergen-free bakery can be “physically and mentally exhausting,” Burson said it’s the “most satisfying job” she’s ever held because of the trust people place, knowing that severe anaphylactic shock can be fatal.
“The customers poured out their support and that is so humbling,” Burson said. “People have handed their health and well-being over to us.”
Third Coast Bakery currently is running a Kickstarter campaign and has reached about 20 percent of its $10,000 goal to help fund the build out, bring in equipment and stock the shelves of what Burson said will be a full-service bakery, carrying everything from “bread to wedding cakes” and plenty of tasty treats in between.
“Our goal is to create a bakery where no one is left out of the party ... ever,” she said.