Photos by Nolan P. Schmidt
Mark Mehl, his siblings and other members of his family are in a group with nearly three million other Americans. They suffer from celiac disease, an immune disease that requires the absence of gluten in a person’s daily diet. Not doing so can lead to severe small intestine damage over time. Mehl, his four siblings and 13 other members of his family suffer from this disease. Each Mehl has learned of their celiac disease in the last 12 years.
This leads them to a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free diets have become more and more prevalent around the world in the past decade. Mehl and his brother Paul discovered that finding high-quality gluten-free products was difficult. On top of that, they could not find anything that tasted even remotely edible. So, they used that as an opportunity to create Mehl’s Gluten-Free Bakery. Using their own distinct brand of flour, the Mehl family’s bakery has become a haven for those with dietary restrictions.
“We just figured ‘hey, it’s an opportunity for us to have high-quality, gluten-free food.’ We know what it’s like to go to the grocery store and pay a premium price for something that’s not very good,” Mehl said. “We try to do our best to keep all the prices fair. The ingredients cost more for us and so we figured we would come up with our own flour, and then all of our products become originals.”
Creating their own brand of flour was the brainchild of Mark’s brother Paul, who was able to create a high-caliber product from which all of Mehl’s products are made. “When he puts his mind to something he usually can come up with something. That’s just something he really focused on, is the fact that because we had a medical condition and that we essentially were getting taken advantage of by corporate companies because of that,” Mehl said of his brother’s flour creation. “We figured we’ll start something and see what happens with the goal of giving people some normalcy back in their eating. Sure, it’s gluten-free, but we believe that you can have a gluten-free food and it can taste as good, if not better, than regular food.”
As food allergies and dietary restrictions have become commonplace, Mehl’s have had to shift their food beyond just gluten-free. “A lot of the time people have more than just the gluten allergy. They have type one diabetes, like four or five of us have type one diabetes, or they have a medical condition,” Mehl said. “Since we’ve opened, we’ve changed, we’ve evolved to the point that I would say four out of five items are going to be dairy-free as well. We never used to have any vegan options, now we have vegan options too.”
Mehl’s Gluten-Free Bakery did not open up its retail shop until 2015. The family business officially opened in 2009 just making their unique brand of flour. Now, with a retail shop offering everything from cupcakes to muffins to even pizzas, they were on track to open a second store before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Mehl says 2019 was their most profitable year to date with 2020 shaping up to be even better.
“2019 was our best year ever. We had grown about five to 10 percent every year, and that trend was continuing even last year. Then COVID hit. Just like several other businesses, we got hit pretty hard. We’ve been able to recover, but we honestly feel very thankful and very happy with where we are,” Mehl said of the challenges of navigating the pandemic. “We honestly believe we have the best flour in the whole market and some of the best products in the whole market. The challenge is we don’t have the equipment to mass-produce it. We don’t have a huge marketing and advertising budget. Those are some of the challenges that we’re trying to figure out better ways of getting the message out that we have this great product.”
Those challenges also blend into where Mehl’s hopes to go in the future. They hope to be able to mass-produce their flour and get their product out across the United States and into bigger retailers too. Mark Mehl is confident in the product, it’s just getting the right pair of eyes on the product.
“Our main goal essentially forever is using the flour as a base for everything that we do. That’s where the magic happens. Our goal is to get that out on a national level. We want to get in with some of these companies that we really think could benefit. It would benefit us and them and customers around the country that don’t even know about us at this point,” Mehl said. “We believe that even if one of the bigger guys saw the benefit of using the flour it would be huge. Even if we can’t get to the point where we can mass-produce it. If somebody sees the positive impact this could have on people and they see that they also could financially benefit from it as well, it could be a win-win situation for everybody.”