Today I am excited to share the story of Frances Shaw, better known to many in the Atlanta gluten free community as the woman behind Frannie’s Gluten Free muffins.

Image 2You guys know I have a soft spot in my heart for women entrepreneurs.  I’ve highlighted Daphne and Liz in the past.  Frances is special to me because not only is she local, but my family has been enjoying her treats since they first launched.

Before I dive in, let me say a word about “treats.”  When my kids were little, I framed foods as “sometimes foods,” “all the time foods,” and “never foods,” trying to avoid the whole “Can I have dessert?” ritual.  We talked – and still do – about filling our tummies with “all the time foods” and then if we still have some room to spare, having a bit of a “sometimes food.”

Now that the kids are older, and they are exposed to food at school, parties, team sports and the like, we still talk a lot about food choices.  We talk about how foods make us feel after we eat them and whether we want to feel that way for the rest of the day.

But, I also want to make sure that they have plenty of special moments related to food.  I want them to feel the fun of having a “treat” just because.  In those instances, I still want the treats to be of the highest quality ingredients possible.  And, they must be gluten free.  My middle child, M, is as gluten intolerant as her mama.

Since our favorite haunt for gluten free treats began carrying Frannie’s muffins, they have fit the bill perfectly.  They are well-sized, made of high quality ingredients, and fun enough that my kids really think they’ve gotten away with something.

I interviewed Frances via email about her business and I think you will find, as I did, that it’s no wonder her muffins are so darn good.

Tell us a little about your “wellness journey.”  When were you diagnosed with Celiac, and what led you to that diagnosis?

I became very sick in 2009 during college and learned that I had Celiac. I changed my diet to gluten and dairy free and noticed a wonderful change in my health. I began experimenting with gluten free baking in the kitchen and created the zucchini muffin recipe. It was so amazing I wanted to share them with others with food allergies. Our muffins cover seven major food allergies and with our vegan banana all of the top eight. That way people with multiple food allergies are never left out!

Have you always been a baker, or was this something you pursued after your diagnosis?

I used to bake and cook with my mom as a kid, but I definitely got into it after my diagnosis. I was on the search for baked gluten free goods that didn’t taste like cardboard. Baking gluten free is a challenge. You’ve got to get creative in the kitchen and try a wide variety of different kinds of flours. When I first made the muffin recipes, I was shocked how moist and delicious they were. Sometimes you surprise yourself!

I’m always interested in the way that companies execute against this idea of “healthy.” Can you share with us a little about how you decided what ingredients you would and wouldn’t use?  Was it a decision that you made and then you crafted your products, or did you experiment with different versions until you found the right mix of ingredients?

When I was in middle school, my mother planted a garden, and my brothers and I helped pick the veggies. That image of picking the fresh ingredients stuck with me. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to use organic fruits and veggies in my muffins. I knew that I wanted my muffins to be exactly the same as when I first made them at home. No preservatives, no additives. We only bake with organic fruits and veggies and eggs raised free of hormones and antibiotics.

Being an entrepreneur is such a challenge financially, emotionally and physically.  In what ways has going into business for yourself been tougher than you thought it would be? 

Starting a small business means all three of those challenges fall on your shoulders. If there’s a job to be done, you have to learn how to do it. Luckily I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so there’s a natural drive in our family to build something larger than ourselves.

My father, King Shaw, built King Plow Arts Center, a historic building complex with live/work studios, commercial artist spaces, art galleries and areas designed for the performing arts. My older brother Robert Shaw is co-founder of Terminal West, a popular music venue in Atlanta. My younger brother Matthew is still in college, but we know he’s going to end up blowing us all out of the water.

I’m very fortunate to have family support within the company. My mother, Deborah Shaw, began working with me two years ago. She helps tremendously with sales and demo events. There comes a point where you can’t do everything yourself and you need someone who is just as passionate as you to keep the business moving.

Sometimes owning your own business feels like you’re flying by the seat of your pants, but that’s part of the excitement. You make the most informed decisions possible and believe in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. I know that providing safe, quality and delicious food for people with food allergies is a worthy cause and I’m enjoying being a part of the gluten free community.

I feel like we are living through such an interesting time where gluten is concerned. On the one hand, more people are being diagnosed with Celiac disease than ever before.  On the other, we also have this new clinical diagnosis of “Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance,” where folks clearly have symptoms but not the damage to the intestines that Celiac causes.  And then, we have lots of people “going gluten free” as a way to generally improve their health.  Finally, we have a subset that seems to be eating gluten free foods because they follow every new health fad out there.  In light of all this, what are your thoughts about the future of the “gluten free” marketplace in general?

There are definitely pluses and minuses to this. For people with Celiac, eating gluten free is a medical diet. The publicity is great because more people are getting diagnosed, feeling better, and there is an overall better understanding of the condition. There are more gluten free foods than ever before and more and more restaurants providing gluten free options.Image 3

The downside is companies jumping on the gluten free bandwagon and not understanding the issue of cross-contamination. An example of cross-contamination is using a knife to cut a slice of wheat bread and then using the same knife to cut a slice of gluten free bread. This would make someone with Celiac very sick. It’s also important to check ingredients, down to the sauces for wheat, barley or rye.

I personally appreciate the attention gluten free is finally receiving. It’s nice to go to a friend’s house or holiday party, and people already have a general understanding of why you need to bring your own food. If you have Celiac or a severe food allergy, getting a food allergy card is extremely helpful. I’ve found that restaurants take your allergy much more seriously.

Speaking of the future, what’s next for Frannie’s Gluten Free muffins?  Wider distribution?  More flavors?  Extension into other gluten free goods?

I would love for Frannie’s Gluten Free muffins to be available in more locations.

I am passionate about providing allergy smart, safe, local gluten free muffins. It’s a great feeling when you tell a kid that has several food allergies that the muffins you make are safe and they can have one. It’s an even better feeling when they come back for seconds and thirds!

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Thanks to Frances for sharing her story!  

If you are in metro Atlanta and you want to try Frannie’s Gluten Free muffins, visit her website to find a retailer near you.

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