Vegan-friendly baker first to open in Ennovation Center – Independence, MO – The Examiner

January 9, 2010 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

By Adrianne DeWeese – adrianne.deweese@examiner.net
Posted Jan 08, 2010 @ 11:36 PM

Jennifer Ward grew up in the kitchen, watching her mother and father bake traditional foods like pancakes. They resided next door to their church, and after service every Sunday morning, they invited everyone over for breakfast.

This, Ward said, is why the pancakes were the first creation in her gluten-free cooking journey that has turned her into an entrepreneur. They were the one item that “just turned out beautiful” when Ward started baking gluten-, nut- and dairy-free, vegan products years later.

Ward, 40, will be the first tenant in the Independence Regional Ennovation Center when it opens this spring. The Ennovation Center is the rehabilitation of the former Independence Regional Medical Center, providing wet-lab, kitchen and business space for entrepreneurs like Ward.

Shortly before Lee’s Summit resident Ward married her husband, Scott, 10 years ago, he experienced severe headaches and intestinal problems. A series of traditional medical examinations revealed nothing, but an alternative medical practitioner diagnosed Scott with celiac disease, a digestive condition that the consumption of protein gluten triggers.

With no cure, the effective method to manage the disease is changing the diet to eliminate wheat and gluten products. First, the family spent a fortune at alternative grocery stores, purchasing cake and pancake mixes, bread and pizza, Ward said.

She decided to make her own recipes instead. Her first batch of cookies included garbanzo bean flour, ultimately resulting in “disgusting cookie soup,” Ward said.

“When I first started playing, oh my goodness, it was a disaster,” she said. “I mean, really, it was funny.”

Without a college degree in food science, Ward extensively researched gluten-free products, still holding on to aspirations of one day attending culinary school courses. She laughed about seeing herself as a scientist whose lab is in the kitchen.

Xanthan gum, Ward said, is a complex ingredient. As a natural carbohydrate, the product is added to bread and other gluten-free baked goods. A tiny bit, one way or the other, “can make or break your recipe,” she said.

“I had pancakes once that were like water – terrible. They didn’t fluff or anything,” Ward said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just put some xanthan gum in,’ and they turned out too high and were terrible. It makes a huge difference.

“I’m amazed, honestly, that I was able to do some of these recipes without any chemistry background.”

With previous career experience in the real estate industry, Ward worked at Whole Foods Market in Overland Park, Kan., a little more than a year ago. She enjoyed her co-workers and grocery store atmosphere, but as the bakery buyer, she purchased the ingredients and products. The not-so-fun part, Ward said, was removing the products from the dock, moving them around in the walk-in freezer and placing them within the store. She often thought to herself, “How am I going to get myself through this moment?”

She wanted to spend more time in the kitchen, but she was consistently busy with her responsibilities. At last, the cooking studio instructor asked Ward to instruct a class on gluten-free baking. Her husband soon encouraged her to start a business, and she did so, launching Be Free Bakers in summer 2009, which now includes more than 50 customers.

“I may not be the next Betty Crocker tomorrow,” said Ward, who has also adopted the gluten-free lifestyle, along with her two children, ages 4 and 6, “but at some point, I’d like to grow this company as something that’s a mainstream American product.”

Her products’ packaging, Ward said, is entirely compostable. Be Free Bakers, which now operates out of a Lee’s Summit church, is all about the green movement, she said. Visit befreebakers.com or call 816-966-9895 for more information.

“If I can, if the incubator is something that just catapults me forward,” she said, “absolutely, my site will try to be as green as possible.”

But in a way, her first kitchen that’s truly her own will be green, with the renovation of a decades-old space into a new use.

Entry filed under: Independence Regional Entrepreneurship Center.

Demolition has begun at the old Independence Regional Health Center – KansasCity.com Start Now to Make 2010 a Strong Year

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