By Bob Uphues
When she opened Flur in downtown Riverside five years ago, Adriana Saldana-Meadath knew how the stigma of "gluten-free" might turn off folks seeking a local bakery.
She avoided the term at all costs, even though everything made at Flur is gluten-free.
"It was daunting," said Saldana-Meadath. "A lot of my business mentors thought I was not going to succeed."
While weekday walk-in business has been unpredictable, Saldana-Meadath noticed her Saturday customers would trek in from long distances – as far away as Wisconsin and Indiana – to get their gluten-free treats.
And the store's wholesale business has exploded. Flur products can be found at Sunset Foods in the northern suburbs and Standard Market out in the western 'burbs, as well as the Union League Club, Medinah Country Club and the University of Chicago dining room, to whom Flur provides 2,000 muffins a week.
This weekend, Saldana-Meadath will launch Flur Marketplace – a concept she hopes may one day might allow the business to expand physically, perhaps across the hallway into the long-vacant former Chew Chew space inside the Arcade Building at 1 Riverside Road.
"There's nothing out there like this," said Saldana-Meadath, a graduate of the French Pastry School in Chicago. "We've built a trusted brand over the past five years and we want to continue creating that."
For now, the "marketplace" will be confined to a cooler and a shelving unit inside the bakery, but they will offer customers other artisanal gluten-free food choices – from gluten free baby food to snacks flavored with exotic spices to sauerkraut.
The idea for the marketplace came earlier this year, said Saldana-Meadath, after the bakery rolled out special gluten-free pretzels for Super Bowl weekend.
"I miss good comfort food," said Saldana-Meadath, who said it took two months to perfect the salty snacks.
The bakery made 80 pretzels and announced them for sale online; they were sold out in 40 minutes to customers putting in orders from as far away as Vernon Hills and Oswego.
Saldana-Meadath's assistant, Zach Lynch, suggested the idea of a "one-stop shop" marketplace to provide more options for customers clearly yearning for them.
To find other local, artisanal gluten-free products, Saldana-Meadath turned to the FamilyFarmed Good Food Accelerator, a food business incubator, of which Saldana-Meadath is an alumna.
A couple of years ago, Saldana-Meadath was looking for some help in growing her business and made her pitch to the Good Food Accelerator, an experience she said was akin to the TV show "Shark Tank," where you need to convince investors your business model is worth a financial chance.
Of the 300 applicants, Flur was one of nine selected to be part of the incubator, and Saldana-Meadath spent six months learning more about things like branding, financing and landing investors.
"I reached out to them, because they have already vetted food entrepreneurs," Saldana-Meadath said.
She picked five companies presently in the program, including Tempo, which produces sparkling organic teas; Departure Snacks, which uses exotic spices from around the world; Cultured Love, makers of raw, fermented sauerkraut; No Denial, a brand of mixed nuts; and Lil' Gourmets, which makes organic baby food.
If the concept takes off, Saldana-Meadath, may look to add the products of other artisanal gluten-free products to the selection. The first day to buy products from the Flur Marketplace will be May 19, which coincides with the Riverside Arts Weekend.
But the products will, be available for purchase every day at the bakery, which is open Monday through Thursday from 6 to 11 a.m., Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
This story has been changed to correct the location of the destination for 2,000 Flur muffins each week.