In early February, Tully Lewis is planning to open Tully’s, a gluten-free bakery located in a former Veneiro’s production space on East 11th Street. The bakery will be the brick and mortar manifestation of Lewis’ online and wholesale business: her namesake cookies and brownies are already sold at stores around the city, including Zabar’s. Lewis, who’s originally from Memphis, spoke with Fork in the Road about what will be on her menu, how to make gluten-free cookies and brownies taste good, and why there’s enough room in town for her and BabyCakes.
Gluten-free baking has come a long way in recent years, but there’s still a perception that almost everything has the consistency of a rubber shoe sole. So what’s the secret to getting it right?
Gluten-free baking is mostly about finding the right flour combinations so that you get a real texture that people are used to. A lot of stuff can have a funky, dry, chewy texture, so you really have to find the right balance of flours and xanthan gum, which simulates the binding aspect of gluten. So I did a lot of playing around; for example, I found family recipes like my mom’s banana bread and chocolate cake, and just substituted flours and xantham gum.
It seems like you’re opening at a good time, given that more and more people are becoming aware of gluten-intolerance and food allergies.
I do I feel that the word is getting out there as far as people diagnosing themselves as gluten intolerant or eating wheat-free or lactose-free; we’re in a time where people are really thinking about it, and more and more and more people are figuring out they have to eat differently. There are not a lot of options [for gluten-free baked goods] in the retail world — you can go to Whole Foods and buy something on a shelf, but you can’t get something in a cute retail space.
Although there’s BabyCakes, which isn’t terribly far from where you are.
I would say they’re my strongest competitor. The clear difference is that not all my products are vegan and all of theirs are. I can eat eggs and butter, and I wanted to make a product that was just gluten-free but still had the other normal ingredients in baked goods to make it taste as normal as possible. Clearly we are both gluten-free and are the only bakeries that are pretty much gluten-free. But again, I think there are quite a few differences, one being that half her products aren’t gluten-free [because they use spelt]. But I love BabyCakes!
So how’d you end up opening a gluten-free bakery of your own?
I grew up in Memphis and went to college and culinary school in Texas — I went to the Cordon Bleu in Austin. After that, I came up and did my internship at Gramercy Tavern and decided I was more interested in the catering world — there was more variety and more normal hours. I worked for two different high-end catering companies, and eventually worked for a few years in a kitchen management position, and then decided I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. I enrolled in NYU’s Food Studies program and found out simultaneously I was gluten-intolerant. I’d always wanted to start some kind of food company, so this gave me the confidence to go for it. I found out that there weren’t a lot of products out there that were tasty, so found recipes that were delicious. In class, we wrote a business plan that was the beginning of the wholesale business I started. Last fall, I decided I would go into retail.
Where were you doing your wholesale baking?
At a commercial space at 46th Street and Tenth Avenue. Everything will be moved to our retail location. The kitchen in the former location was technically a shared kitchen, and other bakers used gluten. So this is great: it will be a 100 percent gluten-free space.
What can we expect to see on your menu?
We’re going to have six different cupcakes a day, mini and regular muffins, scones, brownies, cookies — there will be like a vegan version of most things. And then panini, which will be fun. The bread comes from a place in Florida — they don’t sell it in New York. And then there will be some fruit juices, lemonade, and milk, because milk goes well with cupcakes.
I’ve been testing quite a few vegan recipes, and will be offering a good variety. A lot of people have both a dairy allergy and gluten allergy. My mom is pre-diabetic, so I’m going to try to have a few sugar-free items, which is even more of a challenge, but she’s begging for it.
Do you have any qualms about moving from an online/wholesale to retail business?
Not really. New York itself can be intimidating, but I just feel this is the right place to open a shop like this. I’ve had management experience so I’m not worried about having employees. I’m just excited to have feedback about my product….right now, I hear [feedback] through store managers more than customers, but every store has said that people are loving it, and really excited about retail.