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Shelby Township

August 19, 2013

Sisters bake for those with food allergies, intolerances

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

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Sisters bake for those with food allergies, intolerances
Christina Bleim tends to her booth at the Shelby Township Farmers Market Aug. 17. She, her sister and her mother began Sisro’s Cakery, a gluten-free, allergy-friendly baking business, three months ago.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The Shelby Township Farmers Market gained a new staple this year — Sisro’s Cakery, a gluten-free and allergy-friendly baked goods business that is receiving increased local attention.

Sisters Christina Bleim, 29, of Sterling Heights, and Zana Jancevski, 30, of Novi, have done everything together since they were girls — even being diagnosed with food allergies about two years ago and endeavoring to make dishes that would satisfy their gluten and lactose intolerances.

“We weren’t really pleased with what was out there, so we basically just started baking and bringing our own desserts and whatnot to family functions so we didn’t feel deprived,” Bleim said. “Soon enough, a few things turned into many things and we felt there was a need for it.”

The two combined forces with their mother, Rose Nikodinovski, of Chesterfield, their “master bread maker,” and have since expanded to the Clarkston and Wyandotte farmers markets. Bleim and Jancevski said that they are actively seeking a permanent facility to establish their business and become certifiably gluten-free.

“We need to know what’s going back in our food,” Jancevski said. “Even store-bought gluten-free products were making our stomachs turn because of the preservatives.”

All of the baked goods at Sisro’s Cakery are preservative-free and have no artificial colors or flavors. The lemon cake is flavored with real lemon rinds and juice. Often, items are sweetened with fruit purée. The sisters work to naturally color frosting and icing, per customer request.

“We’ve been experimenting and baking with a lot of trial and error for a few years now,” Bleim said. “Some days are great and some days are not. For my sister, her blondie recipe took her 15 tries before she got it right, and there have been days where I’ve thrown out 10 different types of cake.”

One of the selling points of Sisro’s Cakery is the willingness to work with customers with specific intolerances or allergies.

“I think food allergies are getting worse and becoming more and more common,” Bleim said. “I think the business is a good thing. We want to be able to help people — people with food allergies or people looking for healthy alternatives.”

Dr. Devang Doshi, the Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said that the prevalence of food allergies is definitely on the rise. Peanut allergies in children have doubled in the last five years alone.

“Unfortunately, we have no idea why it is going up,” he said.

Doshi said that many theories exist to explain the rise of food allergies, including the hygiene hypothesis — the idea that our environment is different now than it used to be and is too clean — as well as genetic makeup and diet playing into the mix.

Alexandra Shapiro, a registered dietitian at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said she feels the recent prevalence of food allergies is because it has become trendy to get tested for food allergies.

“It wasn’t as trendy before. People didn’t go to an allergist to get food allergy testing,” Shapiro said. “It may be that they were under-diagnosed and now they’re more accurately diagnosed. It could be that there are more additives in products.”

Gluten-free diets, she said, are prescribed for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which the intestines incur damage because they cannot absorb the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Shapiro said it is important to know the difference between food allergies and intolerances.

Intolerances stem from the lack of a certain enzyme and result in the body working and failing to break something down, resulting in gas and discomfort. Allergies actually cause damage to the innermost tissue.

Bleim said Sisro’s Cakery has worked with customers to create recipes with reduced sodium and without coconut milk, which is a regular ingredient in the bread.

“I can really relate to them. I’ve been there. We understand and know what it feels like,” Bleim said. “I think that every person should be able to, once in a while, enjoy a delicious baked good.”

Jancevski said the response to their products has been overwhelming and that there is a high demand for organic, all-natural, preservative- and artificial flavor-free goods.

“Some people are so happy and start crying,” Jancevski said. “It’s emotional, and then we start crying.”

Bleim said one of the most rewarding parts of her job, which is a full-time commitment, is to experience the true joy a child gets out of being able to have cake or a cupcake for his or her birthday for the first time.

The word “sisro” is slang for “sister” in Macedonian, and it is what Bleim and Jancevski have called each other since they were young.

“It seemed only natural, only the right fit because it’s basically the meaning of our journey,” Bleim said. “We’ve always been beside each other.”

Jancevski said the two have a saying that baking runs in their veins, since they are the sixth generation of professional bakery business owners in their family.

The most popular item from Sisro’s Cakery is the gluten- and dairy-free bread, which Bleim said still retains the texture and taste of normal bread. Other popular items include an organic strawberry lemon loaf and blueberry blessing: a vegan, gluten-free crumb cake.

Sisro’s Cakery will make its debut at the Arts, Beats & Eats festival in Royal Oak Aug. 30 and 31, and Sept. 1 and 2. It will also make an appearance at the Gluten-Free Awareness Tour at the Doubletree Hotel in Dearborn Sept. 7 and 8.

For more information about Sisro’s Cakery, visit www.sisros.com or visit their stand at the Shelby Township Farmers Market 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through October at the Packard Proving Grounds, located at 49965 Van Dyke Ave.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.