Their Phoenix bakery was the first of its kind. 20 years later, they're still defying odds

Endia Fontanez
Arizona Republic

It's an accomplishment for any bakery or restaurant to stay in business for two decades. It's a miracle for a niche, allergen-friendly bakery to have survived.

But after 20 years in business, Gluten Free Creations is going strong and has become a household name for those with Celiac Disease in the Valley. It's certainly not what the owners envisioned for themselves.

Before going gluten-free, LynnRae Ries and her husband Vern Lang were not chefs. The couple traveled a lot and were used to eating most of their meals at restaurants. But after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2000, Ries knew she had to learn how to cook and bake for herself.

"It was a culture shock," said Lang.

The diagnosis came at a time before everyone had access to the internet and smartphones to easily look up products, ingredient lists and restaurants to check for allergens. Words like "gluten" and "Celiac disease" were basically a foreign language for most. But Ries has always loved to study and learn new things, and she quickly made it her mission to learn as much as possible about gluten-free food.

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"My grandma liked to bake, so I would just kind of envision her baking and try to do it. And I had bookcases full of research books," Ries said.

The first gluten-free cookbook she ever read was by a woman named Bette Hagman, so Ries traveled to Seattle to meet her and learn everything she could from her.

"I knew I couldn't do it just for myself, but I could help others. So I helped form support groups here in the Valley. The more I learned, the more I could teach," she said.

Between 2002 and 2005, Ries wrote three books: "What? No Wheat?: A Lighthearted Primer to Living the Gluten-free Wheat-free Life" (2002), "Delicious Gluten-free Wheat-free Breads" (2002), and "Waiter, Is There Wheat in My Soup?: The Official Guide on Dining Out, Shopping and Traveling Gluten-Free and Allergen-free" (2005).

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How a Thanksgiving pie inspired a full-time bakery business

Ries and Lang didn't know right away that they would open a gluten-free bakery.

After learning the ins and outs of gluten-free cooking and baking, Ries hosted cooking classes and support groups for others with Celiac, which she advertised via posted signs near the entrances of grocery stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods. Ries even ended up hosting everyone from her cooking class at her home for an entirely gluten-free Thanksgiving feast.

It was at that Thanksgiving dinner that she and Lang decided to start a bakery.

"As they were leaving, people kept asking, 'Can we leave with a pumpkin pie? Or an apple pie?' After cooking this big meal, they wanted more dessert! So we looked at each other and said, 'Maybe there's room for a bakery'," Lang said.

They quickly learned how expensive it was to open a bakery. The couple looked for a space, but had no luck. Finally, a friend suggested running the bakery out of their house. The couple had to move out of their house and rent another place to live while their former home was converted into a bakery. They installed new tile floors and added additional ovens and freezers.

"It would have passed the Health Department standards, but not zoning. So what we did for zoning was, we went to all the neighbors and told them what we're doing and then fed them desserts. And that went on for a year," Lang said.

Finally, Ries and Lang found a place on 29th Street and Thomas Road, where they opened the first official location of Gluten Free Creations Bakery in 2002.

LynnRae Ries, founder and operations manager at Gluten-Free Creations Bakery, covers a gluten-free cake with sprinkles inside the bakery in Phoenix on March 1, 2023.

What's on the menu at Gluten Free Creations?

Gluten Free Creations Bakery is best known for its lightweight bread that doesn't crumble apart — a rarity for gluten-free breads. The bakery also sells donuts, cakes, cookies, muffins, dinner rolls and gluten-free flour and baking mixes.

The Scottsdale location also includes a cafe that prepares fresh, made-to-order sandwiches on gluten-free bread.

In addition to gluten-free products, the bakery also caters to a number of other common dietary restrictions by making dairy-free and vegan products. All products are clearly labeled with common allergens highlighted to make the shopping experience easier for people of all dietary needs.

"My objective and (Ries') objective is to always give them good food. And so people can walk in here and know that they don't have to ask one question or worry about whether something is gluten-free. They already know it all is," Lang said.

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Running a gluten-free bakery isn't always profitable. But it's always rewarding

Opening a small business is always a risk. But even more so when the business is a completely gluten-free bakery in the early 2000s.

"I had no clue how expensive it is to run a bakery. But sometimes it's nice to be naive," Ries said. "You know, equipment goes down and it costs a lot to fix it. I keep thinking I should write another book called, 'So you want to open a gluten-free bakery?'"

Lang used to have a job with AT&T that paid much more than running the bakery. But he and his wife have never been in it for the money.

"People with Celiac disease and food allergies deserve to have good food," Lang said. "If it wasn't for that, I'd go back to telephone work."

But staying open has not always been easy. Lang said he was ready to shut down the bakery about ten years ago, even telling all of the bakery staff that that Friday would be their last day of work. But two days before that fated Friday, a woman came into the store with her young son who "would only eat the (bakery's) gluten-free cake", and Lang knew he couldn't close the bakery.

"She said, 'Can I talk to your bakers?' I said, 'Did we do something wrong that I can fix?' She said 'no, I want to thank them for what they're doing'," Lang said. "I knew we couldn't close the place. So I went back into the baking area and I said to the staff, 'Okay guys, forget what I said. We're gonna stay open. I'll figure out a way.'"

And despite the challenges, the bakery has remained open for 20 years with only word of mouth advertising within the gluten-free community.

People drive from as far as Flagstaff and Tucson just to stock up on their bread and desserts, according to Lang. And Gluten Free Creations Bakery now has two locations — in north Phoenix and Scottsdale — plus an online ordering service that ships anywhere in the U.S. Ries and Lang also export their products, including pizza crust, bruschetta and hamburger buns, to over 30 restaurants and hotels in the Valley.

"We clearly don't do it for the money," Ries said. "It's just extremely rewarding. It's become like our mission."

Gluten-free bread is displayed at Gluten-Free Creations Bakery in Phoenix on March 1, 2023.

How to visit Gluten Free Creations Bakery

Breads range from $7.99 to $12.99. Desserts range from $8.99 to $16.99. Cupcakes and cakes can be purchased at either retail location, but customers should call ahead and place orders for a dozen or more cupcakes or for personalized cakes.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Details: 10880 N. 32nd St., Suite 39, Phoenix. 602-626-7458. Also, 7607 E. McDowell Road, Scottsdale. 480-990-2253,

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