COLUMBIA — Mary Manulik, 56, has been cooking gluten-free since 1993 — years before gluten-free cooking swept the nation.
She started cooking gluten-free after her husband, Joe Quetsch, 57, was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing certain nutrients. The damage is due to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.
"At first you start looking for food you can just eat," Manulik said. "You would be surprised what has wheat in it. If you look, the first ingredient in soy sauce is wheat."
When Manulik started cooking gluten-free, it was much more difficult than it is today.
She said there were few cookbooks and little information on the Internet, and it was hard to find gluten-free ingredients in bulk, such as soy and rice flour.
After years of cooking, Manulik discovered it was easier to bake large batches of goods instead of one pie at a time, and she decided to start her business, Senza Gluten Free Foods.
Manulik runs the business out of her home at 4500 Kirkdale Court.
She started her business by selling cakes, pies, bread and cookies at the Thursday South-Side Columbia Farmers Market and with private orders from friends in the Central Missouri Celiac Support Group.
Paula Vandelicht, a registered dietician who gives nutrition counseling at Hy-Vee and meets with the support group, said there is a growing celiac community in Columbia.
"I see two to 10 new gluten-free customers a week, depending on the week," Vandelicht said. "There are a lot of requests from people for pies and cakes. We carry some of those products, but having a local bakery is a benefit to the community."
Manulik wanted to provide people with tasty gluten-free food, and she wanted it to be baked fresh.
Ginger Spratt, whose daughter Stephanie, 17, was diagnosed with celiac disease a year and a half ago, is one of Manulik's customers.
"Gluten-free food has a tendency to taste like cardboard," Ginger Spratt said. "Her food tastes really good. The skill included to make good gluten-free food is kind of an art."
Spratt said the food was not any more expensive than the gluten-free food at stores, and Manulik will deliver orders.
Manulik hopes to continue growing her business and maybe one day open a bakery outside of her home.
She will be taking a break during the holidays but will begin selling again at the indoor Columbia Farmers Market starting Jan. 3 at the Parkade Center.
She also sells her goods at the senzafoods.com.