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April and Clement Smith's bakery specializes in gluten-free goods.
April and Clement Smith's bakery specializes in gluten-free goods.

Parker's New Bakery

Dec 22, 2015

These days, “gluten-free” is almost everywhere. Most major grocery stores carry gluten-free items and an search of the phrase turns up over 190,000 results. But it hasn’t always been that way.

April Smith was first introduced to the gluten-free lifestyle in college at the University of South Dakota. “I had a few roommates in a row diagnosed with celiac disease,” Smith says. She was sympathetic as they adjusted to the digestive disorder that causes an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and later was diagnosed with wheat intolerance herself. “It explained a lot of my food choices over my lifetime,” Smith says “It wasn’t just that I didn’t like pasta or beer. It was making me sick.”

After college, Smith spent over a decade managing natural foods sections in Hy-Vee grocery stores in Rochester, Minnesota and Sioux Falls. “One day I had four different dads come in looking for [gluten-free] cupcakes for a little kid’s birthday party at school,” she says. “It just drove me nuts that there were so many kids out there who couldn’t get a cupcake for their birthday safely.” More options are now available, but they’re not always delicious. So Smith and her husband, Clement, decided to start Heart of the City Bakery, a gluten-free bakery in Parker.

Clement spends his “day job” supervising the kitchen at South Middle School in Harrisburg. “He’s the one that hammered out how to make a lot of the initial recipes,” Smith says. They started their business at home, testing muffins, cookies and cupcakes on their kids. Gluten works like a glue that holds ingredients together so it’s a lot of trial and error. “It’s almost better that neither of us are trained bakers because if we were it would drive us nuts what we have to do to make things work now. Like a lot of times instead of kneading air out of bread, I’m trying to put air into bread. Or a cake mix that you would have mixed for 5 or 10 minutes on an industrial mixer, I now need to barely combine the ingredients and then walk away,” she explains

The couple initially filled private orders and traveled to farmers markets. But business grew quickly, so they moved to a building in downtown Parker last July. Space is shared with Brandy’s Custom Cakery, owned by Brandy Engels. “It was a giant old bakery, so we basically divided the back third of it up so it’s two separate bakeries now. We have walls and a door between us that stays shut whenever Brandy’s got any flour flying around,” Smith jokes. “And if an ingredient is not certified gluten-free, I don’t bring it into my bakery.”

April works full-time in Sioux Falls and bakes in her free time, while Engels keeps regular hours. Clients can pick up special orders from Engels' storefront and the businesses work together for special events. “Brandy does all the wedding orders and we just come back to our bakery and make all the pieces,” Smith says. “Basically I make all the bricks and she mortars it together and makes it gorgeous.”

Besides gluten-free, Heart of the City Bakery can fill vegan orders and work with other allergies. Call (605) 929-9542 to order. “And people are always welcome to call and talk. If you just need to figure out how to feed a kid who has been diagnosed with an allergy, I can always point you to the right web site or the right dietician to get you started,” Smith says. “You know, I’m not trained in that at all, but I’ve spent 15 years helping other people learn how to eat again.”

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