Building A Gluten-Free Empire

Miryam Schloss was diagnosed with celiac as a teenager, which meant she wasn’t able to enjoy – among other things – challah on Shabbat. Fast forward her time on maternity leave when she was looking for a creative outlet, she found one: Mass producing her gluten-free challah recipe.

“I created this amazing recipe that I made every week for myself and my friends,” said Schloss. “There are tons of people who are gluten-free and need challah; where are they getting it? The bread business is why I quit my job.”

That moment nearly six years ago was how The Gluten-Free Artisan was born. Schloss, a St. Louis Park native who moved back to her hometown from North Miami Beach this past fall, was working as the director of admissions at large day school in South Florida when she decided to launch the business. For a few years, she juggled both jobs – often staying up very late right before Shabbat to fulfill orders coming in from around the country.

“I was getting calls from Manhattan asking to overnight it,” she said. “When looking for gluten-free challah, it’s such a specific thing. I thought maybe we had a business.”

She reached out to her husband’s best friend, a Baltimore-based financier, who became her business partner. Nearly overnight, she said, the found a Kosher, gluten-free, co-packing facility in Romeoville, Ill., about an hour southwest of Chicago. That facility manufactured the challah and then shipped them to Quality Frozen Foods in Brooklyn, one of the largest distributors of Kosher foods in the world.

“As a company, we’re still trying to grow,” Schloss said. The company produces five different flavors of challah – plain, poppy seed, sesame seed, onion flake, and chocolate chip. The individual size challot are in more than 60 stores around the country, and Schloss is still riding the high of attending her first Kosherfest, the world’s largest and most attended kosher-certified products trade show, which gave her valuable networking opportunities.

Now, she faces the challenge of moving her co-packing operations from Romeoville to a facility near Toronto due to a change in emphasis from the manufacturer.

“They did our last run and sent the pallets to New York; they did a big run to tide us over,” Schloss said of the challah which is fully baked and then frozen. “These things are fluid, I have to be willing to be flexible, but as a Jewish mom you have that inborn trait.”

Schloss is Orthodox – the third oldest of 12 kids in her family – and says she’s seeing more women-owned businesses in the Orthodox community.

“If you asked me that 10 years ago, I’d say I’m a trailblazer; but I think there’s been so much frum-woman empowerment, that every other friend of mine has a flourishing business,” she said. “I do feel that I can empower a lot of Jewish girls. I’ve talked to them about not limiting themselves. Female entrepreneurship is important. I hope to have an impact in that way.

“People who frown upon it aren’t coming from a religious place: it’s a closed minded view of the world. It’s [2018], keeping my observance is very important, but it doesn’t preclude me from doing what I want to do.”

The next for Schloss is to expand the Gluten-Free Artisan from making challah to other breads, like focaccia and garlic knots.

“It’s not hard to get gluten-free cookies,” she said. “We can see ourselves merging with a larger entity to do a gluten-free line.”

The price point is also a challenge for Schloss – which she recognizes – although acknowledged that the combination of Kosher and Gluten Free can mean higher prices. For example, Kosher Spot in St. Louis Park sells the loaf for $8.49 each, although she envisions something closer to $5 or $6 each.

“This is my first time in manufacturing,” she said. “The distributor is hiking up the price to retailers and the retailers are going to town. But it’s Shabbat and it’s about inclusion. If you have one celiac at the table, you want them to feel welcome. And if you’re going to make it on your own, you’ll spend $48 on ingredients. I want to make it more affordable. It was created out of a passion to include people who can’t eat on Shabbat. That’s why we’re here.”