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A Gluten-Free Difference!

By: Joe Spancic, Owner, G.F. Joes

I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday but it actually took place five years ago. We were celebrating our daughter, Alex’s 24th birthday and talking about what we were doing when we turned 24 (I was in the Air Force). Anyway, my wife Kaylee made one of those deep thinking remarks, “I am sitting here thinking about how old I am and figuring out that I have lived this long and wonder how many years I have on the other side!” She turned and looked at me and said “Joe, if there is anything you have ever wanted to do, do it now rather than waiting until the years on the other side of your age are way less than the years that have already passed. My wife made this remark knowing that I was totally spent from my current job, one that I had done since 1990 (you do the math) and was ready for a change. Little did she know just how much that remark had made an impact on me?

It all started when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in April 2006. That first trip to the grocery store netted a bag of Frito’s and a box of rice. Over the months I got familiar with Bob’s Red Mill and all of his wonderful gluten-free flours. Although I had always loved to cook and back, my wife found me taking over the kitchen more and more. I needed to bake and make all the things that I missed, apple Kuching, apple pear bread, snicker doodles, and a whole assortment of other yummy goodies. (I have always had a sweet tooth). I kept experimenting with different flour blends. My family was my taste tester. Our son Joseph is still, to this day, a little hesitant when it comes to trying some gluten-free products while Jacob will try just about anything. One day I came up with this recipe for double chocolate chocolate chip cookies. They were to die for! Then came the homemade chocolate ice cream that Kaylee said tasted like a creamy chocolate mousse. The more I baked, the better everything got. I probably looked like the mad scientist. My family kept telling me, “You need to open up a gluten-free bakery.”

I loved baking, but I wasn’t ready to make a career of it. Then it hit me that night of our daughter’s birthday; why not open up a gluten-free market, a place where people didn’t have to worry about reading every food label and wondering if any of the ingredients would make them sick. We had been doing that for two years! Shortly after I was diagnosed with Celiac, I became involved with the Olympia Gluten Intolerance Support Group (a GIG Branch) at St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia. It was there that I found a greater need in our community for more and better gluten-free products. So, after retiring from my job last October, my family and I set out to see if this was plausible.

G.F. Joe’s Market opened on April 12, 2008. Our family, friends and colleagues were there to help us celebrate. We have been humbled by the response of the community and all of our wonderful customers. The response to the opening of our store has been unbelievable, exciting, sometimes emotional (you should see the look on a child’s face when they see the gluten-free donuts in the freezer for the first time) and very rewarding. We have helped individuals who come into the store for the first time after finding out that their diet has been changed drastically from what they have ever known. Our customers are looking for support, guidance, and in some cases a shoulder to lean on and a good laugh or two. Our connection with our customers is that I have been there, my family has been there. We understand exactly what they are experiencing.

Our store is totally gluten-free and dedicated to serving the gluten-free community, whether an individual has Celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, or someone that just wants to feel better by eating gluten-free products. We have customers who stop by to buy something because a family member or neighbor is coming to visit and they would like to be able to accommodate their gluten-free diet. What we have learned from the get go is the impact our store has had on the autistic and special needs community. We have also learned that many individuals have multiple allergies. It isn’t just about being gluten free.

We are truly a family-owned business. You will see me at the store every day. Our sons Joseph and Jacob have become the best stock boys around. When not working her day job or taking care of things at home, Kaylee is at the store doing all the little things that guys don’t like to do. Our daughter Alex is serving in the Army and is stationed in Germany. But, when she comes home, I am sure you will find her in the store helping out as well.

G.F. Joe’s got its name because all the gluten –free (GF) food in the house was mine! Our family has come a long way since that April. Now we have a whole store stocked with gluten-free food. We are hoping that by being here we are making a difference in the community and in the lives of the people we have had the privilege to meet. I know that it has changed our lives forever.

If you are ever in Tumwater, Washington, stop by G.F. Joe’s and say hello. You just might walk out with the best gluten-free bread you have ever tasted. And, who knows, maybe someday, I will get that bakery up and running. 