As spring makes its appearance, the staff at Ella’s Bellas Café and Bakery in Beacon has cleaned up the back patio for patrons to enjoy their repasts in fresh air and intermittent sunshine. “Normally there’s a garden out back; that will come later in the season,” says Carley Franklin Hughes, owner and proprietor of the combination bakery/coffee bar/hangout. Out front, the signage is simple, giving no indication that all baked goods produced by Franklin Hughes and company are 100 percent gluten-free – “GF” as it’s known among followers of the dietary restriction.
“Basically, we started out of my home kitchen seven years ago,” she explains. “I was doing traditional baking and gluten-free baking on alternate days, and selling wholesale. When it came time to have a shop space, we had to decide which way to go. I had so many people in my life that desperately wanted good-tasting gluten-free options. Our chocolate chip cookie, a best-seller, had always been gluten-free. We decided to go with it.”
The casual atmosphere in the light-filled café invites people to come in, order a delicious soup and salad or quiche or sandwich (not to mention a slew of fabulous sweet treats), have a great cup of coffee or tea and just relax. Talk with friends. Read a book. And don’t worry about what you can’t eat on the menu, because the dreaded gluten is not to be found there.
“Our goal is to have really delicious food that everyone in the family can eat. Most of the time what happens is that people try something and say, ‘Really? This is gluten-free?’ People ask why we don’t just advertise that like crazy. We’re trying to be subtle about it. We get stereotyped, because there are some pretty terrible GF options out there.”
With no former training in the culinary arts or food retailing background, Franklin Hughes mounted some major experimentation in order to formulate flour combinations that would simulate the results that traditional bakers get with wheat. “In the beginning it was a lot of trial-and-error. We probably have at least 20 flour combinations in the shop; some are good for breads, other make great cookies. We start with some starch – usually tapioca or potato starch – but we try not the make it the main ingredient. To make sure there’s a nutritional element as well, we use millet, sorghum, a little bit of rice, quinoa, teff; we don’t use any soy or corn flour. We do have soy in some fillings, but no soy flour. By now we have formulated all the basic flour blends, and we actually sell some of them.”
Her aim was to find ingredients that would do all the things they should do and not taste gritty or weird. “It usually takes me three tries – or sometimes two, or 17! It took us at least eight or nine tries to get the sourdough starter to do what we wanted. We’ve had the same starter for five years now, using it for three of our breads: a baguette, our true sourdough and a rosemary loaf and rolls. We feed our starter and even have a nickname for her: Mama or Little Kim.”
The café soon outgrew itself and expanded into the space next door (“My husband, Jason, tore down the wall and did all the work,” she says), making it possible to offer a full range of breakfast and lunch options. The interior renovation included repurposing architectural items, such as reusing old doors to make tables and making hanging lights built from giant whisks. Greg Flaherty, proprietor of Tas Kafé coffee roasters, moved in to operate the coffee bar. A large deli case displays grab-and-go goodies. As for the bakery items, jars and shelves hold up to 15 different kinds of cookies, along with cupcakes, special-order cakes, baguettes and breads. There are plenty of vegan options, too.
“We’re really here just to be a fun and cozy place to get a good meal, to sit down and hang out,” Franklin Hughes reiterates. Yet with a full crew of bakers, cake-decorators, counter staff and dishwashers – all of whom she says have deep concerns for sustainable farming and healthful food production – Franklin Hughes maintains a community-conscious attitude, sourcing many ingredients locally.
In attempting to accommodate even-more-stringent food allergies, she uses only natural dyes and is very careful with nonstick sprays that contain soy lecithin. Calling her staff “rock stars” in their efforts to respect customers’ needs, she says that they’ll even bake special-order items first and place them on the top shelf of cooling racks so there is no cross-contamination of ingredients. “A friend whose husband is a computer whiz has been working on an app so people can come in, put their allergies on the iPad, and it will tell them what they can have. People tell us ‘I love you’ all the time,” she adds.
Recently “feeling the world needs a little extra love right now,” she launched the Spreadlove Campaign, using an old-fashioned, easy way to donate: a Mason jar on the counter-to raise funds for the Afterschool Programming Tuition Fund at the Beacon Recreation Department and for the Natural Resources Defense Council. And Ella’s Bellas will once again be the pick-up location for the Obercreek Farm CSA this summer.
Ella’s Bellas, Monday/Wednesday/Thursday 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday/Saturday until 7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Tuesday, 418 Main Street, Beacon; (845) 765-8502, www.ellasbellasbeacon.com, www.facebook.com/ellasbellasbeacon.