By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Correspondent
Baking runs in Maggie Hardin’s family, and so does the gluten intolerance that inspired her to open Maggie’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Gadsden and Attalla.
“When I was growing up, I loved baking with my father, who was a professional chef and baker, and many of my family members are gluten-intolerant,” she said. “So I felt like I could merge the two together and bring fresh, baked goods into the Etowah County area.”
The bakery’s Attalla location, at 428 4th Street NW, will contribute to the growth spurt that the city has been undergoing lately. Snap Fitness and Cornerstone Coffee recently opened, while Ray’s Barbecue has returned to Attalla.
A Wendy’s restaurant is almost completed in the old Dairy Queen location, and Attalla residents are awaiting the arrival of a Dollar General and an Ace Hardware store beside Johnson’s Giant Foods, as well as several retail stores in the downtown area.
Sixty-four year Attalla resident Gary Beck is especially looking forward to the Ace Hardware store.
“Walmart opened and shut down the smaller hardware stores, but then Walmart stopped carrying a lot of stuff people needed, which is why ACE is going to be good for us,” said Beck.
Beck’s wife Paula, who has lived in Attalla for 75 years, remembers the city’s glory days of the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s.
“We had two theaters, three grocery stores, two dime stores, a dress shop, several restaurants, three drug stores, a department store, a newsstand, a jewelry store, a bowling alley, and the list goes on.”
Hardin says that the wheat products of those days were better and healthier for consumption.
“It’s been so modified now that our bodies don’t even recognize it as wheat.”
Instead of regular flour, Hardin’s bakery will use almond flour, coconut flour, potato flour, quinoa, and other gluten-free ingredients to bake up goodies like cupcakes, pies, cookies, brownies, breads, specialty cakes, and, eventually, take-and-bake pizzas.
Opening a certified gluten-free business is time-consuming, expensive and rigorous. The Gluten-Free and Celiac Sprue Associations must carefully survey and approve all aspects the baking location, including its air quality.
“The closest certified gluten-free bakeries to us are in Nashville and Atlanta, and there is one in Birmingham that isn’t certified yet,” Hardin said.
The proprietors of Sally’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Atlanta have helped guide Hardin in launching her business and making it through the extensive processes required to receive certification and operate such a unique type of business.
Maggie’s has garnered a warm welcome from local residents, city officials in both Gadsden and Attalla and other merchants located near her stores. Residents are lining up to work as bakers, cashiers, interns, and even volunteers, and Hardin has received many donations of time, money, and equipment.
“Every time I hit a roadblock, within the next day or two, somebody calls me and says they have something to give me for the bakery, so I know that I’m on the right track with this,” she said.
Hardin believes she’s been on track for this venture her whole life, ever since she was so small she had to stand on a step stool to help her father make cinnamon rolls and beg him to add more sugar to the dough.
“This is my heritage – I grew up doing this.”
The Attalla bakery and retail store and the Gadsden retail-only store (at 544 Broad Street) will open early this fall.