Sparked by daughter’s celiac disease, dad opens gluten- and nut-free eatery

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published May 15, 2014

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Fed up that he was unable to take his daughter, Renee, out to eat because of her celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis, an inflammatory condition of the esophagus often caused by acid reflux, Gabe Hertz embarked on a mission to open a restaurant that served gluten- and nut-free food.

He joined forces with Gil Stebbins and chef Tim Karapici to come up with something that he says tastes good and is gluten- and nut-free.

“The chef was at it for over a year,” Hertz said.

“He quit four times,” Stebbins said.

The result is rice flour-based thin-crust pizza with a variety of toppings, as well as salads, soups, chicken wings and tenders, and desserts, including cinnamon sticks — a top seller.

Renee’s Gourmet Pizzeria, on West Maple Road, held its grand opening May 7.

Some patrons come from as far as Ann Arbor for the gluten- and nut-free fare, Stebbins said.

“They can’t believe it’s gluten-free. We get tons of thank-yous.”

Troy Mayor Dane Slater thanked the owners for offering “gourmet meals to people who suffer from food allergies.” 

Ara Topouzian, president and CEO of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, said at the May 7 grand opening that he thinks it takes a little bit of courage to go into the restaurant business.

“You must have a great passion for what you are doing.”

“Suffering from a food intolerance, allergy or auto-immune disease such as celiac disease can make eating scary,” said Christa Byrd, clinical dietician with Beaumont hospitals, via email. 

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of the 15 million Americans with food allergies, the life-threatening anaphylaxis that can be caused by peanut and tree allergies  affects one in 13 children in the U.S. To prevent a reaction, strict avoidance of these products is essential.

“Many factories that process peanuts may process other nuts, so while the facility making your baked goods may not have peanuts in the building, the nuts may be contaminated,” she noted.

With regard to gluten, she said anything porous would hold gluten, such as cast-iron pans, non-stick pans with scratches in the surface and ovens also used for baking products with gluten.

Byrd said some questions to ask when dining out include:

• Does the same facility produce items that contain gluten? If so, what measures do they take to ensure they produce a gluten-free product?

• What training do they provide for employees?

• Are products tested by a third party to determine parts-per-million gluten?

In August of last year, the Food and Drug Administration determined that 20 ppm or less could carry the designation “gluten-free.”

Byrd explained that one of the most common things missing from a gluten-free diet is fiber. 

“Rice and tapioca flour are common gluten-free flours used to replace wheat, barley, oats and rye,” Byrd said. “These flours contain less fiber. Look for products made with wholegrain teff, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat whenever possible. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, at least half of an individual’s grain food servings should be whole grain.”

She said gluten-free foods are less likely to be fortified with folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron.

“In the late ’90s, the FDA required folic acid be added to foods that were a staple to the U.S. population, such as breads, cereals, corn meals, rice, noodles, macaroni. These requirements do not apply to all gluten-free products. Some gluten-free companies are choosing to enrich their products.”

She said some people think going gluten-free is healthier or leads to weight loss.

“Any special diet that requires elimination of an ingredient or nutrient requires closer attention to the foods you eat. When we are mindful of what we eat, we tend to eat healthier,” Byrd said.  “For this reason, a gluten-free diet can lead to weight loss or better overall eating. If removing processed wheat, rye, barley and oat products leads to eating more fruits and vegetables, the gluten-free diet can improve nutrition. However, if eating gluten-free means replacing your regular cookies with gluten-free cookies — you may be missing important nutrients, such as iron, fiber and B vitamins while not making any improvements in your diet,” she added.

Troy resident Elizabeth Mulheisen said her son has life-threatening nut allergies and they frequent Renee’s Gourmet Pizza twice a week.

“It’s so exciting for him to order dessert in a restaurant. He never gets to do that. They are really filling a void in Troy with this restaurant.”

Renee’s Gourmet Pizza is located at 1937 W. Maple. Hours of operation are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Call the restaurant at (248) 280-7800.

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