Summit County couple creates products for gluten-free living
After owning two restaurants, Summit County residents Jim and Deby Curcio understand the needs of people struggling with food allergies. And after catering to those sensitivities for years, the Curcios are now getting ready to launch a new product line of gluten-free baking mixes under the brand name of Toosie’s. “Within the business is where we discovered the niche,” Deby said. “Catering to allergic people is a wonderful thing because they’re so limited in what they can do. They’re so appreciative when they actually go out and someone has taken the time to listen and make sure they don’t get sick.”Deby knows from personal experience. She discovered her own sensitivities – to chemicals and food – while living in North Carolina in the late 1990s. She was the chef at the restaurant they owned there, which is where she first started developing her gluten-free recipes. Upon moving to Summit County, the couple bought Kula’s Cafe in Dillon. Deby said it was at the urging of Dr. Ivo Waerlop of Summit Chiropractic & Rehabilitation, who worked nearby and was intolerant himself, that she started doing more gluten-free baking. She came up with her own flour concoction after experimenting with existing commercial mixes, many of which “tasted strange.” “It really took me about two years of tinkering to come up with my all-purpose flour mix,” she said. Jim said that once the word got out about the gluten-free goods being served at Kula’s, people with the intolerance started “coming from all over.” He said they loved Deby’s mixes; one little boy who was severely intolerant even questioned the bread after taking a bite – he said it tasted too good to be gluten-free.”The gluten-free was almost taking over the business,” Deby said. The Curcios sold Kula’s last year, but continued working on their product line. It includes 22-ounce mixes for bread, muffins, chocolate cake, brownies, pancakes and waffles, and of course, the original all-purpose flour mix. The couple also has mixes available in 25-pound bulk for local restaurants and cafes. The product name, Toosie’s, is very close to the Curcios’ heart. It was Deby’s late mother’s nickname, and translates to “mistake” in Italian. The moniker was bestowed upon her by her older siblings; a bit of a tease since she was born long after their parents thought they were finished having children.
The Curcios said they worked hard over the past year to perfect the product and its packaging; Jim says there’s a lot more to it than one might think. Approvals must come from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. Ingredients and the nutrition label were scrutinized, and bar codes for the packaging had to be produced. The couple worked with a designer to perfect the box’s look, and had professional photographers take pictures of the actual finished product for authenticity. In the past few months they’ve been working with a packaging company to make sure everything was perfect. “We didn’t want to just put it in baggies,” Deby said. “We’re not sacrificing the quality. We don’t believe in that.” Deby said the mixes have been tested at altitude and sea level, and work perfectly at each. She’s also tested them with different add-ins than what the box calls for – like vegan margarine instead of butter – to be sure everything came out right with substitutions. She said the mixes can be adjusted for different allergies. The couple said they will begin selling their products locally and online, and hope to have them on store shelves by the end of the summer. They are currently in the process of finalizing proofs and getting the boxes produced. Jim said he’s not sure if he would ever want to distribute the products nationally, since wide distribution isn’t easy. He’s been attending several entrepreneur seminars led by folks discussing the good and the bad of expanding a product line, like the owners of Justin’s Nut Butter and Evol Burritos. “It’s not about the money so much,” Jim said. “We’re passionate about it,” Deby said. “It’s personal.”For more information about Toosie’s gluten-free products, go to http://www.toosiesglutenfree.com.
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