Claire cooks up a new business to meet food allergy challenge

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coeliac allergyA CARLISLE mum became so fed up with the “tasteless, overpriced rubbish” offered to coeliac sufferers that she launched her own gluten-free café/takeaway.

Claire Singleton-Browne, who was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance 12 years ago, opened Claire’s Kitchen, on the Kingstown Industrial Estate, last month.

She came up with the idea after she and her son Matthew, 12, who is also a coeliac sufferer, found it virtually impossible to find good, gluten-free café and takeaway food in Carlisle.

Gluten is the protein found in wheat. Similar proteins which are harmful to coeliacs suffers are present in rye, barley and possibly oats.

Claire serves up traditional lunchtime fare like sandwiches and pies as well as dishes like lasagne and chicken jalfrezi. Nearly everything is gluten-free and dishes that contain gluten are prepared in separate areas with different equipment to avoid cross-contamination.

“Before I was diagnosed, I was very unwell. I used to get excruciating stomach cramps,” said Claire. “It is a serious condition and is nothing to do with fussy eating.

“It is difficult because gluten is used as a bulk filler in so many foods, even tomato ketchup, so it’s virtually impossible to avoid.

“There is only one takeaway in Carlisle that I know of that caters for coeliacs and most chefs haven’t even heard of the disease.

“I always ask for gluten-free food in restaurants but some of the stuff I have been given has been inedible. Supermarkets are getting better, but gluten-free products are often very expensive.

“It is hard for Matthew at his age. If he goes to parties with friends he has to take his own food. But he copes well and rarely eats things he shouldn’t – he knows how ill he gets if he does.”

Claire, who used to work for bakers Bells of Lazonby, had always wanted to run her own catering business. She decided that a coeliac-friendly approach would fill a lucrative gap in the market – one in 100 people in the UK are coeliac.

She and partner Julian Armitage, a former manager of Carlisle’s Deep Pan Pizza restaurant, took on a unit at Kingstown in July. They worked 15-hour days to set the business up, despite the ground floor of their Warwick Road home being flooded in Carlisle’s January floods only 18 months earlier.

The pair now serve about 120 customers a day and say that coeliac sufferers have come from all over the city.

“We have had good feedback,” said Claire. “People say they are glad that someone is catering for coeliac sufferers.

“We listen to what customers want and try to react. A lot of the lads who come in wanted pizza, so we have just put that on the menu.”

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease, which means that the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues when coming into contact with gluten.

Symptoms can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, tiredness, and constipation to anaemia, mouth ulcers, headaches, hair loss, depression and infertility or recurrent miscarriages.

source - The Cumberland News