Celebrations, holidays and special occasions usually mean sweet treats like cake, cupcakes or muffins. But for families with members who suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, these occasions can be isolating. It means having to bring a separate treat, and one that doesn’t quite taste like the real thing. Kathy Schwartz of Mahtomedi knows this firsthand, as she’s helped her nephew Brody navigate celiac disease since his diagnosis at age one. Schwartz is the founder and owner of Brody’s 579—a business named for her nephew and the medical diagnostic code for celiac disease—which has created a line of gluten-free muffins and breads. And Schwartz is finding that Brody’s 579 takes the bite out of giving up gluten.
“[Before his diagnosis], Brody wasn’t eating, he was losing weight and his hair was falling out,” says Schwartz, who is also a registered dietician. “People would say, ‘Kids will eat when they’re hungry,’ but we knew it was something more.” According to the Mayo Clinic website, if you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response that produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of nutrients. There is no cure: Only by eliminating gluten in the diet can you manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
Today, Brody is healthy. But Schwartz, who also had a passion for baking, wanted holidays and occasions to be inclusive for Brody. “I felt there had to be a way to include him in a treat that everyone likes,” she says, “so I started experimenting with different recipes. We began selling the muffins at the Mahtomedi Famers market in 2012, and we knew we had a product that was meeting a real need.” The sweet treats taste “normal,” as Schwartz puts it, and are growing in popularity around the Twin Cities metro and beyond.
Flavors like apple cinnamon, blueberry, and banana chocolate chip muffins are baked fresh each week and can be purchased at many local retailers, including Kowalski’s, Dunn Brothers on Grand Avenue, Fitness Focus in Mahtomedi, Fresh and Natural in Shoreview, and Tailor Made Nutrition in Woodbury; you can also purchase many of the dry mixes online.
According to Schwartz, the key to the great taste is in her signature blend of flour. “It’s a combination of brown rice, white rice, tapioca flour and potato starch,” she says. In addition to being gluten-free, most of her line is also dairy-, nut- and soy-free, with the exception of the banana muffin.
“I bought the pack of four apple cinnamon muffins at Kowalski’s and ate the entire thing. They are amazing,” says Cynthia King, who was diagnosed with celiac disease last year. “It’s so refreshing to find something that tastes normal.”
Schwartz bakes weekly in a gluten-free kitchen and is pursuing her official certification by the Gluten Free Certification Organization, an independent verification of quality, integrity and purity of products. Schwartz has recently introduced new products, like flax bread mix that meets paleo standards, an almond meal baguette mix, and pumpkin bread. She also has future plans to bag and sell her custom flour blend for use in pancakes and piecrusts.
“I love it when everyone can eat together, like it, and not even know that it’s gluten-free,” Schwartz says. “I feel like I’m doing something to make a difference, and that is very rewarding. I’m helping people, and that fuels me, knowing I’m doing the right thing.”