Deann Thiry Schoeler is in many ways a one-woman baking machine.
Schoeler is the owner and manager of Sunny Valley Wheat Free Bakery in Maple Valley, which will celebrate its third anniversary on June 20.
Schoeler discovered a co-worker in the city of Kent parks and recreation department, where she worked in systems administration, had celiac. That’s a chronic, inherited digestive disease that is a response by the immune system to gluten after it’s been eaten. Gluten can cause damage to the small intestine when ingested by someone with celiac.
Once the small intestine is damaged, nutrients pass through it, rather than being absorbed and this can lead to malnutrition.
After learning about celiac, Schoeler decided to try and make a full buffet of gluten free items for her co-worker, but found that to be a greater challenge than she anticipated.
“I couldn’t find anything prepared,” Schoeler said. “I found ingredients. I did a lot of research and I did put out a gluten-free buffet. Kathy told me that was the first time since she was diagnosed that she felt normal.”
At the time Schoeler had a catering business, and her ultimate goal was to open a restaurant, but it seems that baking gluten and wheat free products is her calling.
“People with this restriction are lucky to have a section in a health food store,” she said. “People without it have aisles of prepared food to choose from in a grocery store.”
Everything from cheese crackers to bread to cookies to donuts to pasta are made by hand by Schoeler, her two part-time employees or her family members. Her mom, for example, comes in on Tuesdays to make pasta since that’s an area of expertise.
“We want everything to look consistent,” Schoeler said. “That’s why I have certain people do certain things and that’s all they do.”
Locating in Maple Valley was an easy choice for her bakery since she lives about 20 minutes away in unincorporated Auburn.
“I had been looking for quite some time for a place to set up shop,” she said. “What I liked about this location … I needed a place to get to and from easily from work because I was still working at the city.”
Plus it was a good size, a reasonable price, already had plumbing and didn’t require a lengthy lease like other places Schoeler had looked.
In recent months the business has grown. A distribution deal was reached with Little Rae’s Bakery in Seattle, Schoeler said, with Sunny Valley products being distributed by Little Rae’s just last month.
James Morse, the owner of Little Rae’s, which is a natural bakery that doesn’t make its own wheat or gluten-free products, first met with Schoeler last summer and “we forged a partnership.”
“We started having our products distributed by them the first week of March (to coffee shops and hospitals),” she said. “Hopefully we can be in stores eventually. Right now we’re just taking baby steps. This is the beginning of the next phase of our business.”
This is in addition to a few other wholesale relationships Schoeler has including with Nature’s Market on the East Hill of Kent.
Schoeler is trying not to overextend herself because she is a one-woman baking machine, but she knows that growing the market for her products is essential to her company’s survival.
More than that, though, she loves what she does even though she has yet to give herself a paycheck.
“I’m very proud of what we do here,” Schoeler. “I wanted to provide a resource. This is what I love to do. That’s the bottom line. I feel really good about what I do.”
Reach Kris Hill at 425-432-1209 ext. 5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.