I want to know about Roanna Canete, the leader. I know why she got into gluten-free baking and why she just opened Gluten Free Baking Co. in North Park. Her boys have food allergies. While parenting experts differ on best practices, most agree we should feed kids. That led to experiments which led to a successful five-year wholesale run and, as of this month, the first storefront. She’s keeping her wholesale kitchen. This is a showroom. A charming, tiny one.
I know she competed on the Netflix show Sugar Rush with her business partner—Torrey Pines High grad Lisa Altfest, who has Celiac disease and worked at Duff Goldman’s Charm City Cakes. But Canete has a master’s degree in leadership, and left that career to do donuts and scones and muffins and lemon bars and cakes. There are many skills you need to run a food business, and baking prowess is neck-and-neck with leadership.
So I ask her to tell me her favorite story as a professional leader.
“A friend of mine was a Peace Corps worker in Burkina Faso in mid-Africa,” she recalls. “As soon as a child was weaned in the village, they were served formula that was just boiled flour in water. Kids were dying, but she couldn’t get through to the moms, because the grandmothers had done the same thing. It was tradition.”
The Peace Corps didn’t have the budget needed to fix the problem. So Canete flew out to help her friend. They studied the culture and found something deeply important to the mothers in the community: baby booties. “They were a hot commodity,” she explains. “So we put out a cry to knitters and crocheters across the world, and explained the problem with malnutrition. We asked them to knit.”
Baby booties started arriving from Turkey, Spain, everywhere. One nursing home sent boxes full of them.
“We ended up with about 1,500 pairs of booties,” she explains. “We gave the mothers booties and got them to try samples of formula with real nutrition. The health of infants spiked immediately. We got these letters from these grandmothers saying, ‘I’m 97 and I didn’t know i could feel like i made a difference.’ And we said, ‘You might have saved this baby’s life.’
“So food was always in my destiny.”
I could tell you other stories. I could tell you Canete went back to school to get an MBA in entrepreneurship to start Gluten Free Baking Company, or that she started in her home kitchen in Coronado and let people pick up orders off her front porch. I could tell you about 1 percent of Americans have Celiac disease, 6-7 percent report being sensitive to gluten. Or that the global gluten-free market was estimated at $21.61 billion in 2019, and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.2% over the next seven years. But let’s stick to stories about kids.
“One mom here in San Diego cried because her son had never been able to eat a gingerbread house,” she says, “and we made a gingerbread house he could eat.”
Gluten Free Baking Company is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11AM to 6:30PM. 4594 30th St., North Park.