By Vic Dolcourt
Patti’s Perfect Pantry in Gilroy – the small gateway city to Los Angeles, the Monterey Peninsula and the Central Valley, south of San Jose – is a gluten-free oasis, or at least it seemed so at the time. I had just spent more than a week in Fresno visiting a number of restaurants from web searches and finding out that they were actually gluten-free-ish, but not suitable for anyone who is seriously gluten-free. Patti’s, on the other hand, is advertised as the real deal – a dedicated gluten-free bakery that serves breakfasts and lunches. It is in a nice part of Gilroy, about eight minutes west of Highway 101 at the same exit as the outlet mall. Patti’s sports a whimsical Alice in Wonderland theme. As my wife and I sat in the shop during lunch we noticed a steady stream of clientele.
The gluten-free journey
Patti Tartaglia opened her shop in summer 2013 after migrating from work as a dietary consultant and cooking instructor for people with special dietary needs. This made sense because Patti went gluten-free in 2008. Patti related, “Gluten-free supermarket breads and cookies were so pitiful then. I just gave up eating them. Going gluten-free was very depressing initially since I lost my favorite hobby. I have always loved to bake and cook, but my favorite has always been artisan bread and pizza making.” In late 2010 Patti began to transform her favorite wheat-based recipes to gluten-free versions. Initial attempts were more than promising.
She began baking in a shared commercial facility and then test-marketed and sampled her baked goods in Morgan Hill, a city close to Gilroy. “Although there was very little chance for cross contact in the kitchen, I always disclosed that the items were baked in a shared kitchen facility,” said Patti. “As a nutritional educator I knew that in order for my products to be safe for individuals with celiac disease they had to be baked in a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. What amazed me were the number of people who wanted freshly baked gluten-free breads and pastries. The gluten-free market was highly unsatisfied and settling for poorly made food, but my standards were higher.” Patti saw there was local demand for gluten free and decided it was time for her to go into baking instead of teaching and consulting.
Patti found a baker in Gilroy who wanted to sell a bake shop that was equipped with all of the essentials. She then hired a cleaning crew to totally remove all traces of flour from the environment, paying particular attention to the food preparation equipment. She then redecorated the shop, and brought in a line of select teas and coffee to complement the bakery’s cookies, cupcakes, scones, muffins and more.
Always concerned with health
“My education and work experience is in pharma and health, so I have developed my bakery items to have healthier ingredients. I prefer to use whole grains like sorghum and teff. I only use a small amount of sweet rice flour in certain recipes and do not use regular rice flour. I also don’t use commercial gluten-free flour mixes and prefer to make all my own mixes, which change depending on the product,” said Patti. “The cookies and cupcakes have less sugar than normal recipes. I want my customers to enjoy the taste of the natural ingredients rather than be just hooked on the sweet taste of sugar. In the case of my breads and rolls, I want my customers to savor whole grain flavors.” That was certainly my impression: the roll that supported my sandwich was perfectly delicious and was amazingly crunchy. My gluten-free experience doesn’t often include crunchy in its vocabulary, but this roll had a crusty top and bottom. When I went to order my sandwich the counter person asked, “And what kind of a roll would you like? We have five different kinds.” Usually, I don’t have a choice of type of gluten-free bread.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” said Patti. “The breads, rolls and pizza all contain some sourdough starter. The wild yeasts improve the texture and add additional flavor. In that way, the breads don’t taste at all like store-bought breads. But even though I do use some sourdough starter, the breads aren’t necessarily sour. I control that. When I initially made the starter I was able to discover the blend of gluten-free grains that the local wild yeasts thrive on.”
From cupcakes to pizza
The bakery offers a full gamut of baked goods ranging from treats like cupcakes – a best seller– and cookies, muffins, and scones, to bread loaves, torpedo-shaped rolls, and hamburger buns. In addition, Patti designates Fridays as Pizza Friday when a patron can select either hot-baked customized pizzas in the shop or take-and-bake pizzas. During the rest of the week she offers frozen cheese and chicken pesto pizzas. Oh yes, meal-sized sandwiches and salads are also available, and Patti offers a monthly special.
Reaching a larger geography
At present, Patti’s products are also available at two markets and a deli in Aptos, a city in the Monterey Peninsula, and one market in Morgan Hill. But this is only the start. Check with Patti’s Facebook page and her website for additional locations and information about in-shop specials and seasonal offerings. “I like to do things with pumpkin and apple in the fall, ginger and heavier flavors in the winter, celebrate spring with strawberries and take advantage of the abundance of berries in the summer,” said Patti.
What’s next for Patti
The bakery is rapidly growing to the point that production space and capacity will soon limit business growth. Patti plans to focus near-term efforts on doing what it takes to expand the wholesale business, thus reaching a wider audience. Don’t be surprised if you see Patti’s pop up at a location near you. But if you find yourself near the Leavesley Road exit on Highway 101 in Gilroy, it is a quick trip to Patti’s shop.