What do a former grain farmer and a beef producer from Westwood have in common?
A gluten-free bakery.
Long-time friends Keely Roberts and Simone Lawrie have taken diversification to the next level with their newly opened bakery, Artisan Gluten Free Bakery, in Rockhampton.
“We took advantage of an opportunity,” Keely explains.
The two have been friends for over 20 years when Keely ran a small grains operation at Westwood and met Simone, who runs beef enterprise Esher, Gogango, with her husband Peter.
At the end of last year, they heard a small gluten-free bakery in North Rockhampton was closing down.
Thus the idea to go into business together was born and the two have been run off their feet since opening at the end of January.
“I did know a little bit about Coeliac Disease before as we had an employee with a child with coeliac and I understand the severity,” Simone explains.
“It’s not just a fad.”
However the stories they have heard from their customers has opened their eyes to the difficulty of living with the condition, and the suffering people go through before getting a diagnosis.
“I had an order from a women central west who did a $300 order - she is Coeliac - and she sent this message - ‘Oh my God I can’t believe I can have this food’,” Simone says.
“So that was really exciting for her.”
When Queensland Country Life visits the bakery, a customer asks to talk to the managers. She tells Simone and Keely this is the first time she has been able to buy food from a bakery and she’s so thankful. This feedback, apparently, happens frequently..
“People tell us it is the first time they can come and relax and not worry about getting sick after eating our food,” Keely says.
There is the perception that going gluten-free is a fad, and although there is an element of that in the community, these business women are about providing coeliacs with variety.
“I think we are a safe option,” Keely says.
Their baker Gary, who avoids the limelight, has been the cornerstone of the business, concocting carrot cakes, sponges, apple turnovers, chocolate brownies and every other treat you would expect to find in a conventional bakery.
“He worked for three weeks to get choux pastry with the chocolate eclairs,” Keely says.
The next move is to look at ways to service the country areas.
Simone says they will grow the business in stages as to what their customer requirements are.
“We are being asked for grain bread and how to get out to rural areas,” she says, and it will be a process of working out logistics.
In the meantime, this journalist tucked into a chocolate eclair and it was beautiful!