When was the last time you had a Hollywood actress baking your morning muffin for you? Here, Crash’s Jennifer Esposito tells us about her new Jennifer Way’s Bakery in the East Village. It's a safe zone and information center for people who are wheat-intolerant and suffer from celiac disease — complete with scrumptious jam dot cookies, devil's food cupcakes and Pop-Tart-like pastries.
I opened my own bakery because…I’m tired of seeing my community suffer. Celiac is a mind trip; it’s like someone beat the hell out of you. I have a blog Jennifer's Way that helps a lot of people in my situation — of not knowing what was wrong or being told I was depressed or being dramatic. But the amount of letters I received and the amount of suffering I saw — I thought, why don’t I give people the option to eat better?
My baked goods are…Our products are 100% gluten free and, because celiac takes vitamins and nutrients from your body, I went above and beyond to get a healthy product. I don't use real sugar or diary and I strive for organic whenever possible. This is also a 100% gluten-free environment. My boyfriend came in once with a sandwich and I was, like, Are you crazy? Go outside — you can't have that here!
The baking bug bit when…I've always loved to cook. I mean, my Easy Bake Oven was one of my favorite things in the world. My mom used to find me as a little kid up on the counter trying to get the pancake mix. All the recipes in the bakery now are really my own. After I talk to you, I'm going to try to make a bagel without yeast and eggs.
My first recipe was…Carrot cake. I had gone to a class at the National Gourmet Institute and even though they cleaned out the kitchen as best they could, I ended up getting really sick. All it takes is one-eighth of a teaspoon of gluten. I remember going home, being so frustrated and just over it. I looked at my fridge and had all these carrots. I thought, I'm making a freakin' carrot cake! And it came out good! I was screaming, I was dancing with my dogs, I was so happy.
You might have celiac if…That's difficult to answer because there are so many different symptoms. I had stomach issues. It attacked my nervous system so I started getting severe panic attacks. Right now, as I'm talking to you, I have swelling and itching in my eyes — I think it's time to change the makeup because I believe it has wheat in it.
And my advice is…Do not stop until you get a right answer — and that means what's right for you.
First steps...Get a proper doctor and see what you're lacking. And read all the labels because gluten is everywhere. Did you know that charcoal contains gluten? And they seal certain tea bags with it?
Gluten-free stereotypes I'd like to correct…One, that if you eat gluten-free, you automatically feel fantastic. It takes a while. And, two, that it's a fad, a diet or that we're being picky. I'm not being picky; my life depends on it.
The best part of opening up your own business…Seeing the severe celiacs come here and eat with their kids — it makes me really happy. And I also really love to bake — it's peaceful and like therapy to me. People are surprised to find me baking here every day. The money I'm making in a day, I used to make in 20 minutes. It's insane, but I don't care; I enjoy it.
And the biggest challenge…Dealing with the city and trying to get this open to code!
Best business advice I've ever received…Go at your own pace.
What's next for me...I'd love to be able to get this to everyone, whether it be in grocery stores or franchises. I've been asked about opening in London, Canada…. There's definitely a huge future for this. Right now it's just two ovens, two other bakers and me.
Photograph by Mimi Ritzen Crawford