Around one in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, meaning they're intolerant to gluten, a protein found in cereals, and therefore foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cakes, and the potential customer base is expanding. Coeliac UK, which is organising the consciousness-raising event, is seeing its membership increase by 1,200 a month.
Good equivalents are widely available these days, too, and some pubs are discovering that going gluten-free can prove a profitable option.Keith Thomas, licensee of the Ship Inn at Brandon Creek in Norfolk, was diagnosed himself six years ago, and suffered the frustration of having to eat steak and baked potato every time he went out to eat. So when he took over the free-of-tie lease nearly two years ago he converted the business to gluten-free.
He said: “We started from square one, and it's not been too difficult, really. Everything on the menu is gluten-free, apart from pies and pastry. It's easier to do it that way, rather than have separate menus, because cross-contamination is a major issue for kitchens.
“It works very well for us. We've gained a big following as a result. I'd say 10% of our customers are coeliac and numbers are growing rapidly, either because there's more awareness, or more people are being diagnosed. We also have people who aren't gluten-intolerant choosing to eat here because they feel it's better for them.
He added:“There's not a great awareness in the pub trade, though. It still tends to be chips with everything at most places, and if you want to do gluten-free, you'd need a separate fryer.”
Good for business
The Burnt Gate, just outside the village of Anslow, Staffordshire, has offered gluten-free menus since 2000 – and has even added gluten-free options for vegans and people who also have a lactose intolerance.
Licensee Marie Stevens has seen the business double since she bought the freehouse 20 years ago.
“For me, offering gluten-free comes down to the fact that everyone is entitled to a good meal,” she says. “We’ve won awards because of it and we’ve picked a up lot of business, we’re so well known for it. People really appreciate what we do.”
It all began when a customer asked whether the chef could prepare a dish for a coeliac.
“I’d never heard of it,” said Stevens. “So we investigated what we could do that was gluten-free and that opened the floodgates. We did a special menu and started to think differently. Every time we come up with a new dish we ask ourselves whether we can make it gluten-free without compromises. We take it very seriously”
Now the kitchen uses only gluten-free versions of certain common ingredients, and gluten-free food has its own chip fryer and chopping boards to prevent cross-contamination. Stevens is especially proud of the Burnt Gate’s range of gluten-free desserts and children’s dishes, and coeliac diners can wash it all down with a gluten-free beer, Estrella Daura.
- Coeliac UK carries a guide to gluten-free venues on its website. To get your pub listed go to https://www.coeliac.org.uk/form/submit-a-venue/. It also accredits and promotes venues that reach its gluten-free standards. Go to https://www.coeliac.org.uk/food-industry-professionals/caterers-and-restaurateurs/accrediting-your-business/ to apply.