[Update: Motek is permanently closed]
If you don’t know what a chocolate babka is, then you have not been watching enough Seinfeld reruns (77th episode, to be precise) and you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. Think of bread with a chocolate cinnamon swirl. Did I mention it’s imperceptibly gluten-free? Meet Jen Wellins and Uri Kenig, the owners of Motek Treats. Motek means “sweetheart” in Hebrew, and Uri must be a sweetheart because he has been dedicated to helping Jen perfect their gluten-free baking since Jen found she had gluten sensitivity. When their friends couldn’t tell the desserts were gluten-free, Jen and Uri knew it was time to start baking professionally.
In addition to the Chocolate Babka, Motek Treats makes muffins with seasonal fruit, scones, chocolate swirl pound cake, chocolate chip cookies, Belgian waffles, and peanut butter cookies with Nutella. Savory offerings include fresh pasta, cheese pizza with basil, and boule bread in either Crusty Parmesan or Black Olives and Sea Salt varieties. The treats are made in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in San Francisco.
Jen and Uri started out selling Motek products on Zaarly.com, which is a marketplace for local artists, experts and entrepreneurs to find each other and buy and sell products and services. They still have a presence on Zaarly, on which they receive rave reviews, but they are developing a more multi-faceted marketing strategy, drawing on their backgrounds, contacts and mentors in business, finance and hospitality.
Motek products are now available online and in an increasing number of grocery stores and coffee shops in the Bay Area (including Contraband Coffee, Beacon Café and Pantry, Gluten-Free Grocery and Loving Cup in San Francisco). The Motek owners empathize with their customers, knowing how difficult it can be to cope daily with a medically restricted diet, and they enjoy meeting customers in person when they do deliveries in San Francisco.
The biggest challenge Motek has faced is how to educate vendors on handling the products without introducing cross-contact with gluten. Some Motek products are individually wrapped, such as the ones at Gluten-Free Grocery in San Francisco, but others are taken out of packages and displayed at coffee shops alongside gluten-containing baked goods. Jen and Uri encourage the shops to place the gluten-free products on separate plates in a separate display, and train the staff on the importance of careful handling.
Jen and Uri plan to expand their business. They are very particular about their recipes so they wait until they’ve reached perfection before introducing a new product. They are in the process of finalizing a coffee cake that will be featured in coffee shops. They plan to place their products in more coffee shops, and some restaurants, and then explore catering. For now, however, they both have a serious day job, Jen in investment management at Schwab and Uri as the West Coast brand manager for Burger King. Their divided time makes the development of Motek slower and more complicated, but it is their passion and they don’t want to rush it.