Gluten-Free Flùr Flourishes With Accelerator Support
By Bob Benenson, FamilyFarmed
Taste of the GFA, scheduled for October 25 in Chicago, is a fundraiser produced by the Good Food Accelerator’s Associate Board to support FamilyFarmed’s entrepreneur development programs. To highlight what the Accelerator has accomplished during its first four years (cohort #5 is currently being recruited), we share the following profile of Adriana Saldaña-Meadath and her Flùr Bakery, a graduate of the Accelerator 2nd (2015-16) cohort. For more information of Taste of the GFA and to buy tickets, please visit the event website.
There are a number of very palatable gluten-free products on the market today, thanks to rising consumer demand. But when Flùr Bakery opened five years ago, its cookies, brownies, muffins and other treats were so tasty that owner Adriana Saldaña-Meadath didn’t advertise that they were gluten-free for the first three months — and nobody thought to ask.
“Nobody knew that we were gluten-free until the very first customer asked, ‘By any chance, do you have anything that’s gluten-free,’ and we said, ‘Yes, we are 100 percent,’” said Saldaña-Meadath during a Sept. 21 interview at Flùr’s bakery-café in the picturesque Chicago suburb of Riverside. “Then it spread through the village of Riverside and people started coming in and… were just blown away.”
The local popularity of Flùr’s products prompted the growth-minded pastry chef to apply for and be accepted into the second cohort (2015-16) of FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Accelerator, an intensive six-month entrepreneur development program. The timing turned out to be crucial as, during her Accelerator Fellowship, there was a restructure in her organization, putting the future of how to move Flùr forward in question.
She credits the support she received from the Accelerator team with enabling Flùr to continue its growth. “Without the GFA, I would not have known how to get through that situation. But we’re still here,” Saldaña-Meadath said at the Good Food Accelerator Application Celebration held Sept. 6 at 1871 Chicago. 1871 Chicago also is home to the Accelerator’s intensive six-month curriculum for each cohort of competitively selected Fellows. (For more about how the Accelerator helped Flùr survive, see “How The Good Food Accelerator Helps Fellows Clear Hurdles” on Good Food News.)
She is now a frequent participant in Good Food Accelerator events — including the upcoming Taste of the GFA fundraiser, produced by the Accelerator’s Associate Board and scheduled for the evening of Oct. 25 at 1871 Chicago. Her experience both during and after her Fellowship has made her an outspoken advocate of the Accelerator.
“There is a pool of resources, of experts in the industry that can help you out, whether it’s finance or marketing, packaging, ingredient sourcing,” she said in the Sept. 21 interview. “And to have a support group to go through this, because being an entrepreneur is pretty lonely, you’re working 24/7, and you have other people who understand this crazy world that we live in… If you have that opportunity, I’d say, jump in with both feet to work with FamilyFarmed.”
Yet overcoming obstacles is not new to Saldaña-Meadath. She had climbed the ladder for years in corporate IT, but decided to follow her passion in the culinary industry. After changing careers and becoming a pastry chef, she was working at a five-star Chicago hotel when she developed health issues that ultimately were diagnosed as gluten intolerance. This ruled out continuing her work using wheat flour, potentially derailing her new career.
But this personal and career crisis produced a revelation that set Saldaña-Meadath on the path to Flùr. “I looked into the lack of good-quality gluten-free baked goods,” she said. “We would get items coming in from other purveyors that were tasteless or full of sugar, products tasted like cardboard, and I figured now I’m one of these people who have to eat this. We shouldn’t have to accept something that’s just not palatable.”
After two years of researching different ratios of gluten-free flours, Saldaña-Meadath determined her proprietary blends were ready, and she launched Flùr. The company name derives from the language of her husband’s Scottish-Gaelic heritage, in which Flùr is a homonym that means both “flour” and “flower.”
As to her caution about announcing to the world that her bakery was gluten-free, Saldaña-Meadath said, “Five years ago, gluten-free still had a very bad stigma in the market. Products were still very full of sugar, tasteless, dense, and just had zero flavor. I purposely opened Flùr with no ‘gluten-free’ signage on the windows. I wanted people to come in, and I wanted to educate them that gluten-free does not have to be what their perception is.”
After building a clientele for her sweet pastries, Saldaña-Meadath has recently added savory items to her lineup, including chicken pot pies, soft pretzels, and a hot dog in a pretzel bun. “We’ve also just introduced a breakfast pizza on Fridays and Saturdays, we cannot even keep the pizzas in the hot box, they are so popular,” she said.
Flùr, which is located directly across the street from Riverside’s commuter train station, has now created a small marketplace within its retail shop. The marketplace is selling gluten-free goods from other producers, with an emphasis on fellow Good Food Accelerator graduates such as No Denial Foods (nut-based treats that are gluten-free and low-glycemic), Lil’ Gourmets (fresh, refrigerated, savory baby food) and Tempo (bottled, sugar-free sparkling tea).
Saldaña-Meadath, however, has even bigger dreams. She envisions national distribution for Flùr baked goods, something that would require significantly scaled-up production either through contracting with a co-manufacturer or — her preference — by building her own manufacturing facility that would make Flùr’s products. Such a facility could also possibly act as a co-packer for other gluten-free startups.
“I absolutely see Flùr being sold nationwide. That is my goal,” said Saldaña-Meadath. “I would love to see them in institutions such as grade schools, universities, hospitals, as well as hotels and every coffee shop. That’s where I envision Flùr.”
She concluded, “I envision big trucks with ‘Flùr’ on the sides, delivering our products.”
You can meet Adriana Saldaña-Meadath and sample Flùr’s delicious baked goods at the Taste of the GFA fundraiser at 1871 Chicago — located in the famed Merchandise Mart — on Thursday, Oct. 25 starting at 5:30 p.m. The event also will feature samples from other GFA graduates and some of Chicago’s most innovative chefs and mixologists. Tickets can be purchased at the event website.