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Gluten-free Goodness: Local waffle company brings breakfast and snacks to all

J.R. McMillan

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Stacie Skinner doesn’t look like a superhero, but to parents whose kids have food allergies, she’s only missing a mask and a cape. With a secret identity as astute as Bruce Banner and mild-mannered as Peter Parker, her background in retail planning and food industry R&D revealed a hidden superpower.

No one was making really good gluten-free waffles. (Well, she was, but no one knew it yet.)

“I wanted to have my own business, and I knew it would be gluten-free, to accommodate some of the allergies that affected my family,” Skinner explained, whose own childhood memories of cooking with her mother in Lopaus Point, Maine inspired more than just the name of her company. “I thought local farmers markets would be a great place to try out my recipes. But when I started, it was mostly cookies and breads.”

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Families with food allergies have to travel a little differently than those who don’t. You can’t just eat anywhere along the way. This writer also happens to have two kids who have issues with both wheat and milk. Before the proliferation of gluten-free and dairy-free options at the average grocery or restaurant, we had to bring all of our food with us. We didn’t simply pack for the weekend. We had to pack like we were going to the Moon.

Skinner’s breakfast staple epiphany similarly came during a family vacation, staying in a hotel room with a kitchen, as many food allergy families often do. Even if you plan to prepare most meals yourself, you can’t pack everything—particularly a waffle iron.

“I bought a box of frozen gluten-free waffles for my son to have while we were there. But when he made them, he held them up to the light and they were so thin, he could see through them,” she recalled. “Then when he ate one, he said they were “disgusting” and asked, ‘Why don’t you sell your waffles?’”

Every superhero has an origin, and it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as gamma rays or a radioactive spider. Skinner followed her son’s suggestion and decided to try selling her waffles at the farmers market, which for aspiring food entrepreneurs is often their first and most effective focus group.

“My other baked goods were selling well, but they weren’t as unique. There were plenty of gluten- free products on the market that were sweet, but not necessarily wholesome,” she noted. “So I decided to let everything else go to focus exclusively on the waffles.”

Ketchup wasn’t Henry Heinz’s first foray into condiments either. His humble start was actually selling horseradish. But something simple and sweet soon proved more popular and profitable.

“I knew the waffles would be a meal component, and hopefully a snack. I felt like they needed to be made with better ingredients that were nutrient dense,” Skinner revealed. “A lot of gluten-free products are simple starches, sugar, and something to bind them together. I wanted these to be more.”

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Soon Banana Flax led to additional flavors, like Wild Blueberry, Chocolate Chip, and yes, Pumpkin Spice. A vegan version is among the most frequent requests, and already in the works. Free from most major allergens, raving fans and demand quickly grew beyond just gluten-free customers and local groceries.

“Retailers are used to products that have a crazy shelf life—like two years for some frozen foods. I don’t understand why anyone would have six delicious waffles in their freezer for two years,” she chided. “It’s why partnerships became essential, and I was lucky to have a supportive, local community of fellow makers to guide me.”

That’s when the collaborative culture that binds Columbus became baked into Lopaus Point. Instead of the cutthroat culture common between competitors in most cities, Skinner actually found mentorship among established gluten-free businesses, offering advice and insights on how to grow smarter, not faster. Bake Me Happy, which has their own gluten-free bakery, even sells her waffles. How’s that for an endorsement?

“Just because you’re avoiding an allergen, it doesn’t mean there’s a compromise in your tastes,” she explained. “We think this is the product people deserve, and small makers help create these new markets and can often right the wrongs of big companies whose early attempts fall short.”

Starting a specialty food company in Columbus also happened to be its own happy accident. Skinner’s earlier career brought her from Boston. But after meeting her future husband here and time spent away from Central Ohio, it wasn’t our test market credibility that convinced them to return. It just felt like home.

“Our kids were getting old enough and almost ready to start school, so we moved back to Columbus. It was the only place we both had in common, even though we had no family ties here,” she recalled. “We loved it so much and knew it was where we wanted to raise a family.”

Photo courtesy of Lopaus Point

Still very much a local brand, Lopaus Point recently launched a mail-order option for folks beyond the Midwest and East Coast reach of their grocery distribution. Skinner discovered many of her customers not only order for themselves, but as gifts—for someone who may have just been diagnosed with an allergy to college students who still struggle with dining hall fare. There’s even a subscription program. Automatically getting a big box of waffles in the mail every month might be the best thing since Netflix.

Staffing also sets Lopaus Point apart. Their first kitchen was a shared space that worked with Franklin County to provide opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities that too often limit employment options. Now nearly a quarter of her staff have similar challenges, working in roles from preparation to packaging. It was the final ingredient Skinner realized she was missing.

“I knew my company had to be bigger than just a product, and our special needs staff are an integral part of our entire operation,” she explained. “We’re not just serving customers whose dietary needs are often overlooked. It’s also about providing opportunities for people in our community whose potential is overlooked as well. At Lopaus Point, we want everyone to feel included.”

Lopaus Point waffles are available at retailers throughout Central Ohio. For locations and online orders nationwide, visit lopauspoint.com.

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Food & Drink

Food Fight: With festivals postponed, food trucks are coming to a neighborhood near you

Wayne T. Lewis, Publisher

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Columbus has a certain love affair with food trucks. We must, since there are over 200 of them in the metro area. Ranging from international flavors to local staples, these mobile kitchens bring slices of diverse cuisine to our parks, favorite bars and sidewalks.

It’s a challenging business in good times, with most trucks having just a few hours each day to log a success. Of course this is Ohio, so weather brings its own challenges to the table. While the entire restaurant industry has been hit hard by closures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, food trucks are now facing an economic snowstorm. 

“It’s devastating. Some are making 10 percent of what they did. The spots they have on a daily basis, 90 percent cancelled,” said Nik Gandhy, founder of Streetfoodfinder.com, a website that helps the public locate their favorite food trucks.

On top of their daily walk-up business, a significant portion of business is catering parties and events. Those too, have been virtually
all cancelled.

“Here at Pitabilities, we are working hard to keep our staff employed as much as possible. Our sales have dropped nearly 90 percent, with some new opportunities coming up that may help us save a few jobs. As of today, we are making some really hard decisions as to who and how many of our staff to lay off. This has been the most difficult decision of my entire life, I have never laid off anyone in over 35 years of having employees,” Jim Pashovich, founder of Pitabilities trucks, said.

Despite these hardships, there is a certain resilience and scrappiness that makes up the food truck community. Leading the charge is the Central Ohio Food Truck Association (COFTA). 

Last week, COFTA introduced its Neighborhood Pickup program. This program is offering the opportunity for local food trucks to continue to serve their community, while practicing appropriate social
distancing measures. 

In the coming weeks, food trucks are scheduled to serve at designated locations around Greater Columbus. These locations have been selected with ample parking and immediate access to residential neighborhoods. Residents can view live, updated truck schedules online and place their order in advance. A designated pickup time will be provided, eliminating the need to wait in line to order. Payment can also be made online, so cash and cards do not need to be exchanged at the order window.

“We have transitioned from serving our guests at their place of employment and now going to the neighborhoods where they live. Our lunch service is nearly nonexistent and we hope that we can build a dinner service in the neighborhoods,” Pashovish said.

Gandhy added there are also efforts to use Nextdoor.com to identify neighborhoods that would like to see a food truck stop by.

“It’s hard, but we’re trying to get better finding new spots. We’re actually trying to go to apartment complexes instead of the streets, so we can get some business,” Abimael Ruiz, owner of two Taquitos food
trucks, said.

Food safety has always been a high priority for the food truck industry, and with the new social distancing measures in place, they are working on methods to serve carry-out while keeping customers safe.

“A lot of the trucks have signs out that say “please respect social distancing.” So customers can still walk up to order. But other trucks are requiring all orders be placed online,” Gandhy said.

Gandhy has been working day and night to get as many food trucks as possible set up with online ordering so they can better compete in the new reality. Customers can find a truck, place an order, and pay on the site, and walk-up to the truck when it’s ready for pick-up.

Despite the massive challenges facing these small business owners, many of whom toil in their trucks day-in, day-out, the guy who builds many of the trucks thinks the industry will survive, and perhaps even grow as a result of this economic storm.

Michael Gallichio is the owner of Titan Trucks—a Central Ohio custom food truck builder and founder of the annual Food Truck Fest.

Gallichio says the latest food truck boom was created in the wake of the last economic collapse when everyone lost their jobs. “People figured, hey I don’t have a job, and for a relatively small investment I can be in business for myself.” 

Starting a truck can be done for as little as $75,000, according to Gallichio. For now though, those dreaming of a new mobile business will need to wait, as the current food truck operators figure out ways to navigate a world with far less demand and virtually no access to crowds.

“Some of the food trucks are shutting down and hoping to ride it out. But these guys are innovators. They’re gonna find a way. That’s what’s so cool about this industry. They’re constantly evolving,” Gallichio said.

As for the Food Truck Festival, it’s still scheduled for early August, but like many things these days, that’s subject to change as the state and nation combat the coronavirus threat. Until then, we can all daydream of being next in line, wearing our flip-flops, hot sun on our back, cold beer in our hand, waiting to experience something special.

Find food trucks headed to your neighborhood on streetfoodfinder.com

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Get your Fox in the Snow fix with this step-by-step recipe video

Mitch Hooper

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If social distancing and working from home has made your days of going to your favorite coffeeshop and café something of the past, Lauren Culley of Fox in the Snow wants to bring the café to your kitchen.

Culley, co-owner of Fox in the Snow, has put together this step-by-step recipe for the biscuits the café uses in many of its popular sandwiches and pastry items. As this recipe doesn't require many fancy ingredients, she said this should be an easy recipe for folks at home to make during shelter-in-place.

In the video below, Culley shows how to she creates the menu item buttermilk biscuits with house made jam.

https://vimeo.com/402332940/5229743f01
Video provided by Fox in the Snow.
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Food & Drink

Burritos To-Go: Six spots with carry-out or delivery for National Burrito Day

614now Staff

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It's always great to support local, but when you can do so and enjoy a burrito? That's a win-win.

While COVID-19 has made going to restaurants almost non-existent, carry-out and delivery still remains an option for many places. And to celebrate National Burrito Day, we wanted to send you in the direction of six spots that are offering the beloved-burrito through carry-out and/or delivery.

Señor Antonios Mexican Restaurant | Carry-out | 8617 Columbus Pike

Everything a traditional burrito should be; grilled chicken, fajitas, and smothered in cheese sauce.

https://www.facebook.com/SenorAntonios/photos/rpp.138883582788520/468001616543380/?type=3&theater

Dos Hermanos | Carry-out and delivery | 59 Spruce St.

Though their hours are restricted now—11 a.m. to 5 p.m.—you can still snag one of these at the North Market, or through apps like UberEats, PostMates, and GrubHub.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtEJocWAi5w/

Brekkie Shack | Carry-out and delivery| 1060 Yard St.

It's never too late in the day for a breakfast burrito!

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-Cvtjfn8fi/

Chile Verde | Carry-out and delivery | Varies

Its best recommended to attack a Chile Verde burrito with a knife, fork, and loads of extra napkins.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7lyLlJA9Xa/

Northstar Cafe | Carry-out and delivery | Varies

Northstar keeps the vegetarians in mind with this burrito featuring tofu, brown rice, and greens.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8HUrKODiyP/

Cuco's Taqueria | Curb-side pick-up and delivery | 2162 W Henderson Rd.

Cuco's makes sure you have enough burrito to last you at least two meals. Plus, what's National Burrito Day without some chips and salsa?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsN_SYGlTHI/

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