Mother-daughter duo Dale and Tess Leavay have always been close, but it was a discouraging diagnosis that prompted them to create something special together.
Tess, who grew up in Southold, was diagnosed with celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder triggered by gluten. It can be a very painful and serious affliction, and those with celiac often find themselves limited in what they can eat.
It was Tess’ diagnosis that prompted her and Dale to form Gluten-Free Groove, an online bakery offering gluten-free treats, four months ago.
“Tess wanted good food — she wanted sweet food, something that tasted good,” said Dale. “There’s nothing out there! It’s very difficult. We started with some recipes from the past when we didn’t know she had celiac and then adapted them.”
Learning about celiac disease, Dale realized there were many misconceptions about it.
“As a mother, I thought, how didn’t I know? I foolishly thought [gluten-free] was a trend,” said Dale. “It was frustrating and I wish we’d known sooner.”
Tess added, “[The diagnosis] was a pretty big shock! Growing up on Long Island, I was such a bagel and pizza person. I couldn’t find any food that was delicious. I was eating a lot at home because I was nervous to eat out. I’d go home and she’d make me coffee cake and pizza and make me feel safe, and over the years I just kept feeling like, ‘I can’t find anything else like this and she’s just making it. We should try to make a business out of this!’”
It certainly helped that Dale had been around the food industry her entire life.
“My parents were foodies before foodie was a term,” said Dale. “Farm-to-table, everything was always fresh. We clammed, we fished. I always liked cooking. Around eight years old, I would make cakes.”
Dale went on to work in restaurants, both in front and back of house and she’s always enjoyed styling food, making sure it looked as good as it tasted.
It paid off in spades, with Dale doing the majority of the baking and Tess handling all the social media, which took off quickly. In addition to private clients and custom orders, Gluten-Free Groove also distributes to North Fork Roasting Company in both Southold and Westhampton Beach and Woodside Farm in Jamesport.
Products include mini lemon poppyseed cakes, coffee cakes, fruit pies, cupcakes — there’s an ever-growing list of gluten-free sweet treats. Dale and Tess have been blown away by the response.
“We see people at farm stands who tell us they haven’t had a pie in 30 years because of celiac!” said Tess.
You can find Gluten-Free Groove products around the North Fork, as well as on Instagram.