“We think we will be a really good fit with the town,” says Cathy Schouten, one of five owners of the family-run Wheatless Wonder gluten-free bakery that will soon be setting up shop in the Grove Hall building in Huntingdon. A commercial bakery currently located in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Wheatless Wonder produces a line of gluten-free breads as well as artisanal bread mixes that cater to clients dealing with a number of different allergens.
The story of how the family behind a commercial gluten-free bakery came to purchase a performing arts venue is rather serendipitous. Already familiar with Huntingdon, the owners of the bakery had been working with Les Fermes Valens for almost 10 years. Mark Bye, the co-owner of Grove Hall, happened to drive the delivery truck for the Huntingdon-based grocer. “We had known Mark for years,” says Schouten. At some point Bye mentioned they were trying to sell their property. “We had been looking for five years. I had given up. We called the agent that day and had a look,” she recounts. They take possession of Grove Hall with the attached Braithwaite building and apartments on May 1.
“We are not going to change anything about the building for now,” she says, as the priority will be to get the bakery up and running with as little impact on their deliveries to Montreal-area grocery stores and restaurants as possible. There are no immediate plans for a storefront, though they hope to eventually find a creative way to open the bakery to the public.
“We don’t want to change the look. We love the quirkiness of the place,” she says, noting that they see a lot of potential in the building. Both Schouten and husband Ken are trained as engineers and plan to do much of the renovation on their own.
The couple became interested in gluten-free baking largely out of necessity, when Schouten was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009. At the time, the only gluten-free bread products available were frozen, and she desperately missed fresh tomato sandwiches on fresh bread. After finding the optimal proportions of gluten-replacing ingredients, Schouten began baking bread for herself as well as for several friends and family members. She was then approached by a health-food store to bake bread for them; from there, things snowballed as she began receiving requests from grocery stores and restaurants. “We quickly became overwhelmed,” she admits, and they soon enlisted their three children, Margot, Nick, and Anne-Sophie, then in their teens, to help in their spare time. The children have since come on board as co-owners of the business.
Long-term, Schouten says they hope to be able to turn the bakery into a destination. “Grove Hall was a meeting place for artists,” she notes, adding they are hoping the property will continue to be regarded as a gathering place, but for lovers of good food instead. In the meantime, “the next step is to own our own place and to see where it goes.”