“I was blessed with a few roommates in college with celiac disease,” says April Smith of Heart of the City Bakery. That was her first experience with allergy-free baking, and her sensitivity for people with sensitivies has stuck with her for many years. Both April and her husband Clement have a background in foodservice, and they were often answering questions and trying to find alternatives for people with allergies, especially for those with allergies to gluten. “That was the need I saw in the community,” April says. What they created to fill that need was Heart of the City Bakery, a gluten-free bakery whose products are enjoyed by gluten-warriors and civilians alike.
April explains more: “Everyone has an event, everyone has a party, everyone has a brother or a sister-in-law who can’t eat at their event. And every office has a few people that bring their own apple slices to the company party because they can’t eat the cupcakes. So we’re here for everyone who didn’t have a home before.”
Clement adds, “I think that’s what’s been missing from a lot of gluten-free products– they’ll make something gluten-free and then people will eat it because they have to, because they have no choice. But there’s enough competition now that you can’t just make something gluten free and it doesn’t matter what it tastes like. It has to be something that tastes good. And I think we make tasty and good product, and people know that and they appreciate that!”
“My favorite is probably the lemon tarts,” April says. “At least right now. My favorite last night was the Boston creme pie!” Many of the gluten-free goodies are also dairy free, egg free, or both. “We can make almost anything free of almost anything if you need, and we do custom orders all the time,” April says. She has developed most of these recipes on her own. “For about the past year and a half I’ve been baking passionately to develop plenty of gluten-free recipes in our pocket that we can just whip out and use at a moments notice.”
Another perspective that the Smith’s bring to their bakery is a passion for local ingredients. “In the past we actually hoped to open up a bistro with only locally-sourced ingredients, so we had already made connections with lots of local producers,” April explains. When they began to focus instead on fulfilling a need for gluten-free goodies, they knew they could still incorporate lots of locally-sourced ingredients. April notes, “We get our carrots from Mary’s Kitchen and Gardens, and our zucchini comes from whoever throws it at me first. We use buckwheat and sorghum since those are grown in the Midwest. Our nut of choice is sunflower seeds, and the sunflower seeds that we get are all harvested West River. Our flax is all harvested in Howard, South Dakota.”
One recipe that uses many of these local ingredients is Heart of the City’s Morning Glories. “It’s almost a serving of vegetables, more than a serving of fruit, as well as coconut oil, flax seed, and chia seed and all with less than three teaspoons of sugar, which all comes from honey and applesauce.” Disguised as a dense muffin, it’s about the healthiest breakfast you can get. “I have several customers who come every week and bring home six for the week ahead so they can have one for breakfast every day,” April says.
Currently, about half of Heart of the City’s sales are at the market and about half are custom orders, mostly for special events. They work collaboratively with Brandy’s Custom Cakery in Parker, South Dakota. In fact, Heart of the City’s kitchen space is next to Brandy’s, and Clement did most of the work to get the space ready for use as a commercial kitchen. “It’s a cooperative event. On our side of the wall we do everything that’s gluten free and allergy sensitive. And then on the other side of the magic door, Brandy can do everything that’s wheat, and then she assembles it all into one coherent event. We box everything up separate and make sure it’s all safe.”
Collaboration has been essential to every step in Heart of the City’s process: sourcing the best ingredients, turning out unique and delicious recipes, and getting the goodies out to the people who will appreciate them most. April explains, “I see people who just talked to their doctor or an allergist or a nutritionist and have been told everything they could not eat. And food is such the center of everyone’s life, and the center of community, and that’s what communities were built around– searching for food. So they’ve just had their entire life denied them. And I get to be there to help pick up the pieces and tell them what they CAN eat.”