116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - When Kwesi Seals realized the baked goods his mom had made for him were gluten-free, he was astounded. He and those he shared the cookies and cupcakes with couldn't discern any difference from a normal cookie. When he and his mother, Earie Seals, tried gluten-free treats from Hy-Vee, the differences were obvious.
'I said, ‘Mom, you might be onto something,' ” Kwesi Seals said.
That something has turned into E's Gluten-Free Bakery, run out of Earie's Iowa City home, which supplies gluten-free cookies and cakes to several local Hy-Vee locations and offers delivery and pickup for a wider range of treats.
Earie Seals has always liked to bake, and after she retired from her physical therapy job, she began selling baked goods at farmers markets in 2011. She first ventured into gluten-free baking when her daughter, who was attending graduate school in Arizona, asked her to send her some gluten-free treats for her roommate. The roommate enjoyed what she made, and Earie ended up sending more to them and sending some to Kwesi, who was working in Sioux City at the time. He didn't learn that the tasty treats she was mailing were gluten-free until he came back to Iowa City.
'I felt there was a market for it, and I felt what was on the shelf wasn't very tasty,” Earie said.
Kwesi encouraged Earie to bring some of her goods to Hy-Vee to see if it would stock it in its health market. Earie was skeptical, but she brought in cookies and cupcakes to try, and she got a call back saying that she could add to the gluten-free products in local stores. Since 2012, E's Gluten Free Bakery, with Earie owning the business and Kwesi as her business partner, has sold goods at four Hy-Vee locations in Iowa City, one Coralville location and in University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The bakery also offers delivery and pickup for a larger menu of treats with free delivery to Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin.
Ever since Kwesi started focusing more on social media, more people have found the bakery. Kwesi's niece taught him how to use TikTok during the pandemic, and he has started making TikTok videos as the 'gluten-free hype man,” to an overwhelmingly positive response.
Campaigns online to buy from local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and lists of local Black-owned businesses circulating on social media have only helped their sales, and the lack of a storefront has allowed them to stay open and not lose money.
'People are really reaching out to find businesses of color,” Kwesi said. 'This exposure over the last three weeks, and even the last three months, has been significantly more.”
Kwesi and Earie do whatever needs to be done, though Kwesi enjoys making kolaches the most and Earie's favorite things to bake are cakes and cupcakes. Earie recently had the chance to experiment with cake customization, with orders for a cake with a cartoon photo and another depicting Olaf from the movie 'Frozen.”
'It was just neat, and they were really happy,” Earie said of the Olaf cake.
Before Earie had a kitchen installed in her basement in April 2019, ingredients and baked goods would take up space from the kitchen into the living room. Now the mother and son move around the small space easily, rarely pausing in their work, a variety of music playing in the background as they joke and rib each other. Work starts at around 6:30 a.m. and Earie will keep baking until 6 or 7 p.m. Kwesi will leave around 5 p.m. to complete deliveries.
While working with family can come with its own challenges, Earie said there's generally a lot of laughter, too.
'It really does have a lot of fun times,” Kwesi said about working with family.
E's Gluten Free Bakery was built out of love, Kwesi said, so losing profits from offering free delivery doesn't matter to them. While they are continuously tweaking the menu and trying new things, providing good, homemade food to customers like the woman who told them she hadn't eaten a cinnamon roll in six years because there wasn't a gluten-free option.
'We've never been all about making money or the bottom line,” Kwesi said. 'It's about providing a product for people with celiac disease, who need to eat gluten-free, and something that's quality.”
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E's Gluten Free Bakery