Shelley Ritchie, Moondance Desserts

Shelly Ritchie owns the gluten free-friendly bakery Moondance Desserts. Her sweet treats are now available in 25 U.S. states, as well as Switzerland and Bermuda.
How did Moondance begin?
I started in my kitchen. I had another job, but I started making cheesecakes and brownies. We grew, and we got into Whole Foods, and then we got so big that I couldn't handle the demand in my kitchen. We have a facility now; we've been in it about five years, and that's when Moondance really started. I was just doing delivery out of my house to health food stores and things before that. By now, we've gotten national recognition—we were even in Real Simple magazine.

One of the things that sets us apart is that it doesn't taste gluten-free. It's a good product. I spent a lot of time on product development; we did a lot of tastings and samplings

Do you have culinary training?
I have a personal background in cooking and baking, mainly from my grandmothers. I have a business degree and a business background; I think that's kind of helped me keep it going. I was in insurance for over 20 years and I have a sales background, so that has helped.

It seems like everyone's conscious of gluten-free diets these days.
It's amazing how it just hit everyone's radar.

When did you notice that?
I'd say about five years ago is when it turned. In the past three to four years, we started noticing big companies like Anheuser-Busch or Betty Crocker, or other the mainstream companies like General Mills, coming out with gluten-free products, and that changed the dynamic completely.  It used to be all small, or relatively small, manufacturing companies, but now it's very different.

And you're gluten-free yourself.
I am. I have a gluten intolerance. I was playing around one day, making some stuff, and a friend said, "You should sell this stuff." We really started growing. We also found some products that filled some voids. So we make cheesecake, brownies and cookies, and actually we are just rolling out two kinds of coffee cake, a blueberry almond and a cinnamon pecan. We found that the breakfast market was very underserved for gluten-free.

What do you wish people knew about wheat and/or gluten intolerance?
For people that are dealing with it, it's not a low-fat diet to lose weight or an Atkins diet; it's not a fad. It's manageable, but it takes planning to do anything. It's easily manageable; we're lucky in that. There isn't a cure, but there is a way to live without medication, whether you have celiac disease, an allergy or an intolerance. But, still, I would like to see the restaurant chains really understand it. A lot of them say that they're gluten-free, but they don't have the practices in place that they should have.

What's next for Moondance?
We have several new products, along with the coffee cakes. Our third new product is a white chocolate chip pecan cookie. It's nice because it's really chewy—some people will remember the Tollhouse cookies. That's one thing that sets us apart is the texture of our products—they're real. At the beginning of our taste testing, we don't even use gluten-free people; we want people to say, "That's good," not just, "That's good for gluten-free."  
Interview by Robin Donovan