[Update: Miglets permanently closed in 2016]
By Vic Dolcourt
Katie Alin, the owner of Miglet’s gluten-free bakery and grocery in Danville, is a rock of the Northern California gluten-free community and a key supporter of Camp Celiac. The camp is hosted by our partner The Taylor Family Foundation, which is run by Katie’s mother Elaine Taylor, so it’s a family endeavor as well. Katie spoke to Vic Dolcourt about how her shop came to be the go-to bakery and gluten-free grocery in eastern Contra Costa County.
Vic: Katie, I remember the Miglet’s kick-off in 2010 and having one of your delicious cupcakes, but how did you get into the gluten-free baking business in the first place?
Katie: It was a little by accident, but it has been a wonderful accident. I started out working in the Whole Foods bakery here in the East Bay. I was a baked goods merchandiser. At that time we didn’t have Udi’s or the gluten-free selection we have today. Gluten-free foods of all kinds were strewn throughout the store. I became the de-facto store guide and expert on what was safe for people with celiac disease to eat. I knew what my mom could safely eat, so I brought that experience into the store.
I was always cooking and baking at home, and I did a lot of cooking and baking at Camp Celiac. I left Whole Foods about the time cupcakes started to gain popularity in the Bay Area. They are convenient–a small cake for just the moment. That made sense, so I went to work for a Berkeley cupcake shop. People would come in and ask for gluten-free, or dairy-free, or egg free, or nut-free, or soy-free and of course we didn’t have that. So I told them, “I can make them for you,” and handed them my business card. Eventually, a little light went on in my head, and I decided to become a “free-from” caterer baking gluten-free cakes, pies and tarts. I did that for about two years, and then the little light went on again. I needed a spot where I could have an identity, sell retail, and do custom orders. I started a cupcake shop that has had a dedicated gluten-free kitchen from the start.
We are the only cupcake shop in Danville. The general public comes here, and most of them don’t care that we are gluten-free. Our prices are competitive with other cupcake shops in other cities.
K: Well, that is almost embarrassing. When I was little, sometimes I was accused of being messy–messy like a little piglet. That got shortened to “Miglet.” When I decided to open my shop I thought about calling it Katie’s Cupcake Shop, but there are probably a thousand of those. How would people find me? I decided to call my shop Miglet’s and use the piggy as a mascot. The kids at Camp Celiac really got a kick out of it, so I knew I had picked the right name and mascot. When it comes to dessert, we are all kids at heart.
V: How has the bakery changed since you went into business in 2010?
K: In some ways, there hasn’t been a change at all. We tend to sell more small items because you are often the only one at a party who has to eat gluten-free or egg-free. So, we have something for just you that is absolutely delicious. I won’t sell anything that isn’t absolutely delicious. We are always experimenting and trying to bring our gluten-free customers items that they didn’t dream they could eat again, like doughnuts. We’ve even made churros, but that takes strong arms and a lot of work.
In other ways we have changed a lot. Our recipes are in a constant state of refinement. I now have a baker who is absolutely brilliant. Our vanilla cake recipe has changed three times, and chocolate cake, probably six times. Also, every month we feature three seasonal or holiday treats in addition to our standard six cake flavors.
V: Miglet’s has grown up to be more than just a cupcake shop. It is also a bakery.
K: Yes, that is right. In addition to cupcakes, cakes, doughnuts, and special orders we have chicken pot pies, quiches, grilled sandwiches, corn fritters, and savory bread puddings. The bread puddings are almost a meal in themselves.
V: I’m stumped. I’ve had bread pudding for dessert, but what is a savory bread pudding?
K: Here is an example: bacon, sharp cheddar cheese and kale.
V: You said doughnuts. Are these really “doughnuts?”
K: These are not fake, celiac doughnuts like you buy in the stores. Our cake doughnuts are the real thing, and I wouldn’t sell them if they weren’t delicious and couldn’t pass for wheat flour doughnuts. We tried making yeasted doughnuts and gave up on them, at least for now. They tasted good warm, but when they got cold, they got hard, just like gluten-free bread. Not everything can be made gluten-free, but we keep trying to push the envelope.
V: And, you are a grocery store as well
K: We don’t compete with big retailers like Whole Foods, but we have a great selection of the best gluten-free products. I bring in fresh bakery items from local entrepreneurs that I think are terrific, plus other products from across the country. A few examples are cinnamon bread from Bacano, pizza crusts from Mariposa, alfajores cookies from Wooden Table Baking, sourdough bread from Bread SRSLY, and wraps from Tumaro’s, which hold up better than most gluten-free wraps you can buy. We don’t compete with our fresh food entrepreneurs. They make products that we don’t. In general, we make things that are on the sweeter side.
You may not have known that we are also a wholesale bakery. Schools are sensitive to the diets of their students, and we offer them allergy-friendly goodies for their students. We also bake a huge amount for Camp Celiac. Our wholesale business is expanding, and you can find us at all Draegers store locations, Van’s Health Food, Jules Thin Crust, and Mariposa Baking Company. As of February we relocated our baking operation from Danville to a new dedicated gluten-free facility in Pleasanton. You can place a special order and pick it up in Pleasanton, but Pleasanton does not have a retail showroom. We also cook for Camp Celiac in our Pleasanton facility.
K: It is somewhat different than what we make for our retail or wholesale customers. We are cooking in bulk for the kids. The menu is broad and includes things like cupcakes, cookies, stuffing, mac and cheese, doughnuts, churros (these can be special ordered and are naturally egg-free) and birthday cakes. The last night at Camp Celiac we also give every cabin a birthday cake because all kids have birthdays and they love their cakes.
V: What is the long-range plan for Miglet’s?
K: I want to grow our wholesale business, and now that we have the capacity to do so, that is first on my radar. I am also thinking of reducing the footprint of our Danville store since we don’t bake there any longer. Now that I have separated the kitchen from the store front, I might want to have other retail locations. Time will tell just where this goes or where the opportunity will take us. Check out Miglet’s Facebook page <https://www.facebook.com/migletsgf> and website < www.migletsgf.com>. They have daily specials and a monthly newsletter with specials and a coupon, all accessible from the contact page <http://www.migletsgf.com/contact.html>.