MONTREAL – Patricia Libling of PatsyPie Bakery often receives calls
from clients who say, “Oh no, the worst has happened – I found out I
have celiac disease.”
| PatsyPie brownies, cookies and muffins fresh out of the oven.|
Photos: Pascale Simard / Alpha Presse Inc., & Brian Hartz
MONTREAL – Patricia Libling of PatsyPie Bakery often receives calls from clients who say, “Oh no, the worst has happened – I found out I have celiac disease.”
However, Libling thinks, in a certain way, this can be considered almost good news because at least they know what the problem is.
“Yes, it’s a change of food lifestyle, but you also feel better,” she says.
That wasn’t the case for this busy mother, who suffered from lifelong digestive problems and was only diagnosed with celiac disease later into her adulthood. She went through years of pain, medical appointments, tests and prescriptions, and even had her appendix removed (unnecessarily, she believes) when she was pregnant. It was only when she was finally diagnosed that she was able to gain control of her symptoms and find a proper diet to help her feel healthy again. And the regimen that finally ended up working for her was to change her diet and eat gluten-free (GF) foods.
As most of us know thanks to the rapid growth of the gluten-free market, gluten – or the “glue” that binds proteins in bread products – is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine, and when gluten is ingested, it irritates the lining of the small intestine, which can cause everything from chronic diarrhea to abdominal swelling, pain, flatulence, itching, rashes and anemia.
|PatsyPie founder Patricia Libling|
|Patricia Libling and her team at PatsyPie Bakery in Montreal. “I’m really lucky,” Libling, who has celiac disease, says of her life’s work making gluten-free products.|
Filling the void
Libling isn’t the only one in the family who has to deal with celiac disease – one of her daughters has it, too. This has made her search for delicious, wholesome gluten-free food even more crucial. However, Libling wasn’t at all impressed by what she found on the market.
“I didn’t like what was out there,” she says. “I had always baked, so I went back to my old recipes and came up with a product that tasted ‘normal’.”
Her first gluten-free homemade goodie was biscotti, one of the company’s most popular products today. “I started peddling my biscotti around the neighbourhood,” she says, “and I had quite a bit of luck – everyone liked it. A week later I was picked by my first distributor.”
That was eight years ago. Today, PatsyPie (a nickname Libling’s husband gave her years ago) gluten-free baked goods are carried in every province and across the United States. They’re even sold in Puerto Rico and served on Air Canada flights. Located in a modest facility in St. Laurent, just outside Montreal, 12 employees, including Libling herself, hand-make each cookie, brownie and muffin.
That’s right – apart from the fact that they sell only gluten-free baked goods, PatsyPie also prides itself on being an artisan bakery.
“We have no big machinery – everything is handmade in small batches,” Libling says proudly. “It’s not a factory cookie – I know my product is the best because it’s real.”
Ensuring that the products remain gluten-free throughout the manufacturing process is paramount, and every step of production is closely monitored.
“We test all of our products here, and I make sure that I have a paper trail so I always know where all my supplies come from,” Libling explains. “And our employees, while they are here, only eat gluten-free.”
PatsyPie goes straight to the source and looks to the public for new product suggestions. They not only try out their goods on clients but they also get non-celiac clients to taste-test their treats. And they take all the feedback they receive very seriously.
“We never take clients’ letters lightly,” Libling says.
The most recent addition to PatsyPie’s line of gluten-free baked goods is lemon shortbread, which came about after the bakery was flooded with requests for a good GF shortbread cookie. In fact, at the time of this interview, PatsyPie was preparing to ship a top-secret prototype of a new product to a client in the Maritimes who was the one that suggested it.
“Our research and development department consists of only myself and one other baker,” says Libling. “We try and come out with a new product every year.”
Just before this issue went to print, Libling told us PatsyPie had become a certified kosher bakery, meaning new products in that category are on the way.
“We are now kosher through Earth Kosher,” she said.
Distribution and marketing
PatsyPie reaches clients and sells through a master broker in Ontario called Canadian Natural and Specialty Brands. Libling really credits her North America-wide distribution success to this company.
“I was going to sell on my own but this has worked out perfectly – they brought the products to territories I didn’t even know about and really put me on the map,” she says. “Our broker also bought a gluten-free bread company and, coincidentally enough, two years later, his granddaughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. So he really understands GF products.”
Marketing and advertising for PatsyPie is a relatively straightforward process for Libling – her husband Michael has been in that industry for more than three decades and volunteered to lend his expertise.
“He thought I was nuts when I started, and I think he felt badly for me, so he came up with a logo,” she says. “Then, with his friends at Catalpa Design, they came up with my bags. Today, Michael does all my advertising – he’s the one who puts ads in all the celiac magazines and newsletters (including the Canadian Celiac Association’s “Celiac Circular” as well as its various chapter newsletters). I’m really lucky.”
Libling attends most of the major natural food shows, including the Canadian Health Food Association’s Expo West in Vancouver last month, and her broker represented her products at the May 16-18 Bakery Showcase in Toronto.
What some people would view as a challenge, Libling has embraced with open arms and open ovens. While celiac disease may have affected her for many years of her life, Libling is taking the knowledge she’s gained from living with the disease and combined it with her love (and obvious knack) for baking, helping hundreds of people along the way enjoy desserts again.
PatsyPie’s line of specialty baked goods is truly giving celiac clients a melange of guilty pleasures without the guilt (or the gluten).
On the web:
PatsyPie Gluten-Free Bakery: www.patsypie.com
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