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July 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
People can form some extremely close relationships with their food. But food allergies can force people to say goodbye forever to the snacks they savor.
Edie Diel, co-owner of Dande Café, experiences this firsthand every day. When she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2011, she realized the difficulty of navigating the food market. Celiac disease, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks gluten proteins, can prevent people from eating a wide variety of foods. Celiac sufferers who consume gluten can experience a range of symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. Diel and her husband, David Faust, opened the café in February to make food easily available to those who can’t or choose not to eat gluten.
Dande doesn’t just cater to an audience seeking gluten-free food, though. The business remains flexible, and there is an open collaboration between the café and its customers. By working with customers, Dande is able to change the menu daily. The owners are happy to take suggestions, and they provide customers with the nutrition or allergy information for the items on their menu because so many have specific dietary restrictions.
Diel and Faust operate a gluten-free kitchen to assure safe food for their customers with gluten allergies; about two thirds of the menu is gluten-free. They use a designated refrigerator for food containing gluten and prepare dishes with gluten in a separate area of the restaurant. Laura Gartner, the café’s manager, says this guarantees there is no cross-contamination.
The café promotes its gluten-free services to its customers because gluten can be found in so many foods. When inspecting the food in her own pantry soon after her diagnosis, Diel’s findings caught her off guard.
“If you look in your pantry and evaluate what’s really in there, everyone would be surprised at the amount of
gluten they’re eating,” she says. After being diagnosed with the disease, she says, she was grieving the loss of so many foods. “For the first week I only ate potatoes,” she says.
People with similar frustrations can stop by the café and see a wide variety of options, including egg dishes, gluten-free pastries and chicken salad, that can help them adjust to a new diet without old favorites.
Dande also offers dairy-free and vegan options such as couscous salad, turkey cranberry wraps and crunchie munchie clusters, a combination of oat cereal, cherries, almonds and dark chocolate. The café replaced Sven’s Kafe and Gallery. In honor of the restaurant it replaced, Dande’s menu offers a rendition of Sven’s classic chicken salad.
Gartner says her favorite line with customers is, “Having any cravings today?” She says she enjoys making a customized meal to cater to customers’ hankerings when preparing food.
Melodi Beach, the owner of the Beach Salon next door, stops by the café often. She says she loves the fresh flavors. “I like that they’re trying to be healthy and creative all at the same time,” Beach says. “Edie is really helpful. She just wants to make people feel better. It makes you want to come back.”
Dande also provides a catering menu and prepackaged “Grab-a-Bite” food options, which are sold at Natural Grocers and both Clover’s Natural Market locations. This gives customers the option to pick up a meal when time is limited.
“Our mission statement is to provide people with food that’s so yummy, they don’t realize it’s good for them,” Diel says. “We don’t want to be known as the healthy place to eat. We want to be known as the yummy place to eat.”