Let them eat cake! And bread…And muffins…

Posted

American Gra-Frutti serves up gluten-free baked goods in Roswell

STORY & PHOTOS BY

KATIE VanBRACKLE

katie@northsidewoman.com

Fresh baked goods are an essential part of every Thanksgiving feast. But for those suffering from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, the sight of Grandma’s angel biscuits or Aunt Betty’s pumpkin pie can induce shudders of apprehension rather than delight.

Marilyn Santulli, owner of American Gra-Frutti bakery in Roswell, understands this anxiety all too well and considers it her personal mission to provide families on a gluten-free diet with worry-free breads, desserts and snacks for the holidays as well as year-round enjoyment.

Gluten-free products sometimes have a reputation for being bland, but at American Gra-Frutti, gluten-free never tasted so good – from Sunshine Lemon Pound Cake and Mia’s Sweet Potato Muffins to Cheddar Jalapeno dinner rolls and buttermilk biscuits. All of Santulli’s products are gluten-free, and many more are also dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free and egg-free.

Owning her own bakery is the fulfillment of a cherished dream for Santulli, whose favorite childhood moments were spent in a Kansas farmhouse, baking and canning homegrown fruits and veggies in her grandmother’s kitchen.

“My grandmother was my inspiration,” she said. “The homemade treats she and my mother shared with friends spread such joy. I always knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

Santulli’s career took her around the world giving corporate technical presentations and performing in commercials and industrial films. She even dabbled with acting, in a role on the television show “In the Heat of the Night” with the late Carroll O’Connor.

But through it all, baking remained her favorite hobby. Her first culinary goal was to change the world’s view of the much-maligned fruitcake.

Using old family recipes, Santulli created three varieties of moist, nutritious fruitcakes with names like Citrus Berry Bliss and Berry Wonderful and began selling them at local farmers markets, eventually adding other homemade edibles such as coconut drop candy and pimento cheese spreads.

To produce her wares, Santulli leased space from a café in Marietta, working in the kitchen at night after the café closed.

In 2007, she opened her own business, named American Gra-Frutti in honor of her fruitcakes. Her dream of bringing quality products to market was becoming a reality, but soon an unexpected hurdle arose.

After suffering for years from a series of unexplained health issues, Santulli was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, meaning wheat and many other grains were now on the forbidden list. Not good news for a professional baker.

Determined to hold on to her dream, Santulli educated herself, changing her diet and her business in the process by adding a new line of Marilyn’s Gluten-Free Gourmet products.

American Gra-Frutti became a completely gluten-free facility with Santulli spending hours researching and testing new recipes or re-working old favorites.

“Thankfully, a few of my recipes were already gluten-free, but many others had to be completely changed. It was a huge challenge and there was a lot of trial and error,” Santulli recalled. She relied heavily upon her two young grandchildren, Jake and Sophia, who were ready and willing tasters.

“Children do not lie,” said Santulli. “If they asked for more of something, I knew it had to be good.”

Back at the farmers markets, Santulli found enthusiastic response for her efforts.

“At the time, gluten-free products were not always very tasty, so people were excited to discover wholesome, delicious baked goods that were safe to eat. Customers started coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘Thank you! We need these products.’ I had no idea the demand was so high. This was when my mission became clear and I really shifted into high gear,” she said.

Determined to reach a larger market, Santulli presented her goods to the grocery buyers at area Whole Foods Markets and soon her products were on the shelves in stores across the Southeast and selling fast.

Today, her Roswell bakery produces hundreds of cakes for Whole Foods Markets, including Very Vanilla, You Love Chocolate and a unique flavor called “They’ll Never Know.”

“It’s my favorite cake,” she said. “A nutritious twist on a traditional carrot cake made with carrots, squash and spinach. It’s delicious, but I couldn’t name it ‘Veggie Cake’ because that would be a big turn off. I kept promising customers that their families would ‘never know,’ so that name eventually stuck.”

Santulli and her small bakery staff in Roswell stay busy filling large wholesale orders, but retail customers can walk in the Mansell Road facility anytime to purchase gluten-free cheese straws, crackers, snack mixes and pimento cheese spreads as well as a new line of baking mixes for everything from pizza dough to sandwich rolls.

Freshly baked breads, biscuits, dinner rolls, muffins, cakes, cupcakes, cookies and desserts can be pre-ordered online at www.agrafrutti.com and picked up on Tuesdays and Fridays.

A small staff handles the daily production at the bakery, allowing Santulli time to experiment in the kitchen with new recipes, her favorite passion.

Knowing that she is bringing a little bit of freshly baked joy to those with restrictive diets is very rewarding.

“My mother, who is now 87, suffered from digestive problems for years and I wish she had been diagnosed earlier. She could have had a different life,” Santulli mused.

“She and my grandmother gave me my love for baking and inspired me to share my creations with others. I love what I do and am excited to see where the road leads next.”

American Gra-Frutti

1007 Mansell Road, Ste. D

Roswell, Ga. 30076

770-587-5874

www.agrafrutti.com

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