Babycakes NYC Now Serving Humble Pie

16 Comments 15 November 2007

1_3 While still in its infancy, every business ends up with a few frustrated customers. Babycakes NYC is no exception. Due to our past relationship with Babycakes NYC, they contacted us and wanted a chance to clear the internet air, so to speak. I politely, yet clearly, told them a few things they needed to change in order to gain the confidence of some of their customers with serious allergy issues. I’m happy to report that they eagerly took the friendly advice and have made some big changes.

One change you will notice is that the Babycakes NYC website no longer uses the term "wheat free" in connection with spelt flour products. When the bakery first opened some people were concerned about spelt products being labeled as "wheat free".

Even though calling spelt "wheat free" is a misnomer, I’ve always understood this probably for two reasons: Every gluten-free person has to eventually learn that gluten-free always means wheat-free, but wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free. The second reason, more than likely from before the days of gluten-free food awareness, is that some people who have an allergy to traditional wheat have found that spelt flour, which is indeed a form of wheat, didn’t bother them. For years now in Oregon (my hometown, which is alternative in every way, including food) spelt goods have been available. A lot of people that just don’t eat traditional wheat have come to refer to spelt products as "wheat-free". Now, and with good reason, it has been realized that this is technically incorrect and needs to be addressed when it comes to accurate food labeling.

The other big change at Babycakes NYC is they now have a list of ingredients for each item available on both the website and in the store. Erin McKenna, the owner, told me she used to be very protective of her recipes, but now she realizes that in order to put her allergic customers at ease she needs to honor their requests for a full disclosure of all the ingredients she uses. Along with this each item is clearly labeled as gluten-, wheat-, dairy-, egg-, or soy-free. Notes are also included for items using spelt, agave or regular sugar.

When I spoke with Erin recently, she explained how she started her alternative baking endeavors because of her psoriasis combined with IBS which was triggered by wheat and dairy. She wanted to create a fun and tasty bakery that would be able to serve people with special diets. It turns out that Erin is not bothered by spelt, a cousin of wheat. Although she seems fine with these restrictions, once she gets a break from one of her 14 hour bakery shifts she’s considering getting tested for celiac disease just to make sure she doesn’t have it.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Erin:

Kelly: "What about the issue of cross contamination in your bakery?"

Erin: "We really care about our ingredients and we’ve done all that we can at this location to avoid cross-contamination starting 3_3 with calling all of our vendors and buying all new equipment for our gluten-free items. Most items, including even sponges and spatulas, are color coded: items used for our spelt based products are red or blue, and gluten-free items are coded white and yellow. We don’t have the space for a separate oven, but we wipe down the oven in between batches of gluten-free items and spelt items. Our display case is organized too in such a way that the top row is gluten-free, middle row is for spelt items and the bottom is for our cupcake tops (like the Seinfeld reference to muffin tops) are coded by the color of the decorative flower on top. Green means gluten-free, pink and white is for spelt. Our bakers train for 3 weeks and then have to pass a quiz to make sure they fully understand the seriousness of keeping things separate. We’ve had to let a few employees go due to reports and observations that they just either didn’t care or they didn’t fully understand the importance of keeping things separate and accurately advising our guests. Now we have some great employees that are very much a about the cause."

Kelly: "What about additional food allergies – like nuts- can you accommodate them?"

2 Erin: "In the beginning we started getting requests for soy-free so now, other than items that have chocolate chips, we are soy-free. We do not use any nuts, but we have checked with all of our suppliers for possible cross-contamination of nuts and at this time we can’t guarantee they are nut-free. For example, we use Bob’s Red Mill flour products for their quality since they are certified and tested to be gluten-free, but they also produce almond and hazelnut flour in their gluten-free facility, so we can’t technically tell people with nut allergies our products are 100% safe. I’ve suggested to Bob’s Red Mill that when they build a newer gluten-free facility it would be helpful to their business, our business, and our customers that have to eat nut-free, if they would somehow separate the nut flours from the rest of the facility.

Kelly: "I didn’t see you on the Martha Stewart show, but I heard you looked dumbfounded when she asked you to talk about the canola oil you were using in the recipe you made on the air. I’ve heard that this has made some people nervous as to whether you really understand your ingredients or not, which I’m sure was fueled by spelt being labeled as "wheat-free" in your store. What really happened while you were on the show?"

Erin: "I know that didn’t look good, but the truth is, we didn’t use canola oil in our original recipes at that time. I prefer coconut oil because of its health benefits to other oils, but due to its bad reputation in the past as an artery clogger the show told me they didn’t want me to use it in the recipe. Even Food & Wine magazine didn’t want me to use coconut oil in my recipes they printed. People are still freaked out and misinformed about coconut oil. So, I had to substitute canola oil last minute on the air and it totally threw me off when she asked me about canola oil. Now we do use canola oil in a few items in order to have something for the people that still don’t feel comfortable eating coconut oil."

Kelly: "Thanks for clearing up any confusion for us, Erin. For fun, is their any new and exciting exclusive information you’d like to give to us about Babycakes NYC?"

Erin: "Yes! We are opening a bakery in West Hollywood, CA hopefully by March 2008. It’s  in a really hip area and our store will have a patio and more space for people to stay and enjoy the treats they have bought. We also are designing the store so the gluten-free items will be on one side of the store and the spelt items will be on the other side. We think this will make picking things out easier for the customers along with minimizing cross-contamination even mor
e. I’m also working on a cookbook so anyone anywhere can enjoy Babycakes goodies! I’ll let you know more about dates as soon as they are finalized."

So, as you can see, Babycakes NYC has grown out of the awkward beginning stages of business by taking some big steps to please their rapidly growing customer base. Any further requests or suggestions for the bakery can be emailed to info at babycakesnyc dot com.

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Your Comments

16 Comments so far

  1. 1
    Rubber Chicken Girl says:

    I am confused on the canola oil thing still. Do some people think canola oil is not gf? Or were you just trying to figure out why the chick from Babycakes was dumbfounded??

    I’m a bit slow….sorry.

  2. 2
    Deb Shear says:

    Thanks Erin for setting the record straight! The only disappointment is that Babycakes is going to Hollywood and not coming to the upper East Side! We need you here.
    Kelly, as always, thank you..
    Deb Shear

  3. 3
    Deb Shear says:

    Thanks Erin for setting the record straight! The only disappointment is that Babycakes is going to Hollywood and not coming to the upper East Side! We need you here.
    Kelly, as always, thank you..
    Deb Shear

  4. 4
    Jennifer says:

    Kudos to Erin for having listed the ingredients for those of us with a dizzying list of sensitivities, intolerances and allergies. However, she lists rice milk. Can you find out what kind? There is enough gluten in Rice Dream to make me sick, that’s why I ask. Thanks in advance-

  5. 5
    alicia says:

    Great article- just one note- the correct term is “cross-contact” not “cross-contamination”- the difference is that bacteria found in chicken for example can get killed off with the heat, but wheat or gluten can’t so there could be a concern about using the same oven for the spelt products even if you are being meticulous about cleaning it- the heat won’t kill off gluten or wheat if present.

  6. 6
    CeliacChick says:

    Jennifer- Good question! They use Pacific brand rice milk. It has “gluten-free” right on the label.

  7. 7

    Hi Erin,
    I’m new to blogging and fairly new to the world of Celiacs. My husband and I have a blog together, and would love to include your blog site when I get my sidebar items on. I’ve read your blog for a while, and it’s been very helpful. I’ve been gluten-free for 18 months. So much to learn…

  8. 8
    Ginger says:

    Wow, even though I don’t live any where near NY, I am happy to see that Babycakes uses spelt! I have celiac (not gluten intolerance) and can eat spelt (and have been tested) and am looking for more spelt products. I will be in Oregon in Feb, so if you wouldn’t mind passing on info about all the spelty bakers there, I would be grateful!

  9. 9
    Sheltie Girl says:

    Thanks for the write up on Babycakes. It does seem odd that the media folks want to put Babycakes on the air because of their healthy allergy food, but them want them to change their recipes to use canola oil. Go figure…

    Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

  10. 10

    i LOVE BABYCAKES visited the shop twice when i was in NYC , i would recommend it for sure.

    Jen Ramos
    ‘Earth Friendly DESIGNER Cards’

  11. 11
    Kelly says:

    Rubber Chicken Girl-

    I can see how the wording may have been confusing. You see, in certain circles, people wondered that if she was mislabeling spelt as wheat free…and then looked like she didn’t have a clue about an ingredient in her recipe, canola oil, then did she understand the whole gluten-free concept all together. It didn’t have anything to do with canola oil being gluten-free or not (it is gf btw )This is one reason I brought you the complete explanation from her side of things.

  12. 12
    Kelly says:


    PLEASE explain how you can be celiac and eat spelt, a wheat product? This goes against anything I’ve ever read on acceptable flours.

  13. 13
    miriam says:

    I live close to Baby Cakes..and am able to wander in often…regrettably, as of this writing and despite all your tough talk with owners, as of this writing, I am sorry to say they cannot prevent cross contamination and do not prevent it.
    Each time I have taken the “chance” — their so-called gluten free goods have caused serious reaction..including today.
    They are baking IN CLOSE QUARTERS with spelt…
    And that SPELTS disaster (forgive the pun…)
    Sorry…but they are contaminating their so called gluten free goods.
    And even though they are called themselves kosher (tests, etc) they are not. Period. End of discussion

  14. 14
    Janet says:

    I am confused, Miriam. What does being kosher (fit or allowed to be eaten or used, according to the dietary or ceremonial laws of Judaism) have to do with being gluten free?

    And how is whether or not they are kosher a
    debatable matter?

  15. 15
    Chris says:

    Kelly- Thanks for pointing out that spelt is in fact a form of wheat. I hear it erroneously repeated so often that spelt is “wheat-free” that I’ve made it a personal mission to point out fact that spelt=wheat whenever I can.

  16. 16

    Now after all that fuss Kelly can finally get back to trying to get a life! Same to you Mirium! End of discussion!


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Kelly Courson


Thanks for stopping by! I'm Kelly Courson and this is where I've shared my gluten-free finds since 2003. The world has been my gluten-free oyster for 14 years now and I love sharing what I've learned in order to help others adapt to a gluten-free diet. Have a look around and feel free to leave a comment. Connecting with people like you is what has kept me going this long! Seriously.

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