Longtime New Westminster resident Ray Porcellato is sweet on the idea of bringing tasty gluten-free baked goods to the masses.
Porcellato is the founder of Cloud 9 specialty bakery, which just opened. The bakery provides gluten-free treats including cookies, scones, muffins, loaves, cupcakes and cakes, as well as gluten-free flour and mixes.
"I went all over the Lower Mainland and bought everything that is available. It goes largely unfulfilled, which means it was awful," Porcellato said about existing gluten-free baked goods. "Tastes like wet sand. Crumbly. I said, 'this is what people have to deal with?'"
Cloud 9 aims to provide baked goods that are so good people can't tell they're gluten-free.
"Cloud 9 is a specialty bakery that offers gluten-free products, where there is no compromise in taste and texture," Porcellato said. "People wouldn't know the difference between the bakery's gluten-free products and products baked with gluten."
Porcellato worked as a stockbroker/ trader for 15 years, before working with his sister at her bakery in Vancouver. Eventually, he ventured out on his own and adapted his mom's family recipe for Cloud 9 marshmallows.
"I started that wholesale line after being in the bakery business with my sister and my mom," he said. "I left that and started my own wholesale line of marshmallows and marshmallow-related products like smores."
Cloud 9's marshmallows come in a variety of flavours and are sold in shops across Canada. The concept of creating gluten-free baked goods evolved from the gluten-free marshmallows.
"There is a great demand for it," Porcellato said about gluten-free products. "I thought we could do it better."
Porcellato said the first step toward making tasty gluten-free baked goods was developing a high-quality gluten-free flour. He didn't have to look far for assistance, calling on mom Pixie who had years of baking experience.
"We weren't going to put out something that was just OK. It had to be the best," he said. "Once we had the flour bang on, then we started creating the products."
In addition to developing the flour, Pixie Porcellato's baking skills have also helped create the baked goods that will be offered at Cloud 9. She tried many combinations of flours to get the taste and texture she was seeking.
"We wanted to make a flour that was interchangeable with any all-purpose flour," she said. "We have accomplished that. That is an exciting thing."
As a mom of four, Pixie baked daily when her children were growing up. Although she's retired, she helped one of her daughters establish her bakery in Vancouver and is now helping one of her sons with his business endeavour.
Cloud 9 bakery sells baked goods, gluten-free flour and mixes for items such as brownies, chocolate chip cookies, waffles and pancakes.
"The one I think is perfection is the brownie mix. We will sell the brownie mix. We also make the brownies to sell here," Pixie said. "I made it so a child can make it. You have a moist, chewy brownie. A child can make it with ease."
Cloud 9 is based on its flour, which has been distributed by wholesalers up until now.
"I wanted a retail presence. I have already done the bakery thing before. We are giving people a chance to buy it here, finished baked goods if they don't want to go home and bake," he said. "If they do want to go home and bake, we sell them our flour or the mixes."
Porcellato's business partner is fellow Royal City resident Mike Betcher, who owns a communications company and handles Cloud 9's design and marketing.
"It's a nice contemporary environment that brings it (gluten-free products) to everyone," Porcellato said. "It is mainstream. So far nobody has done it like this. I'd like to have a place that people are proud to tell their friends about."
Porcellato had been leasing the space for his marshmallow manufacturing facility, so it was the perfect place to launch the bakery.
"If my dream comes true, there will be a Cloud 9 specialty bakery in every major city in North America," he said. "We are already working on our franchise agreement."
While some people have questioned the logic of locating the bakery in a space more known for its auto shops, Porcellato believes the location at 1025 Royal Ave. will prove that Cloud 9 can succeed in any location.
"I wanted to make it so people would come in here and get the feel of what this would be like on Yonge Street in Toronto, on Fifth Avenue in New York, on Rodeo Drive - wherever you are," Porcellato said. "This is nice enough to go anywhere."
Cloud 9 has big plans for the future, including videos on Youtube showing people how to make the products at home with Cloud 9 mixes.
"My mom and I will show you exactly how to bake it. It is dummy proof," Porcellato said. "People will think you're Betty Crocker."
Pixie Porcellato will continue to help develop new products for Cloud 9 and to answer questions about the products.
"On our website there is actually a button you can click on that says, Ask Grandma Pixie," notes her son. "If someone has a gluten-free question about our products, they can ask Grandma Pixie."
Some people have questioned why Cloud 9 will sell baked goods - and then give away its recipes and teach people how to bake those products.
"They have to buy this," Porcellato said, holding up a bag of Cloud 9's gluten-free flour. "This is in all the recipes. Everything we sell in here, we will post the recipe on our website. If they come in and want to make it at home, they've got to buy this."
Although some bakeries sell gluten-free products, Porcellato said many are baked in places that also serve products with gluten. He said there's no risk of cross contamination at Cloud 9.
"My environment is 100 per cent gluten-free," he said. "There has never been any wheat flour in this place ever."
People suffering from celiac disease and gluten sensitivities must avoid gluten, as it can cause stomach pain, fatigue, headaches and other symptoms. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, can be found in productions ranging from bread to pasta to beer.
"Gluten-free isn't a new thing," Porcellato said. "Today's wheat has 50 times the gluten that it did 100 years ago."
Porcellato said there's no comparison between working in the bakery and working in the stock market.
"It's a fun, cheerful environment, especially if you are fulfilling a need," he said. "People are thankful. . You buy this stuff - everybody eats it. They don't feel like an outsider."
Marshmallows not only led Porcellato to pursue gluten-free opportunities but also to create gourmet wine gums through his company, DaVino Gourmet.
"There is no real wine in those wine gums," he said of mainstream wine gums. "The main ingredient is wax. Wax is for waxing your car and not for eating. Ours are all natural. The wine gums are a major success."
Cloud 9 specialty bakery is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
© Copyright 2013