Guest blog: Rana Roushdi, Rana’s Artisan Bakery – When life gives you lemons
I’ve chatted to a number of other Coeliac sufferers during awareness week (you can check out all of the blogs covering life without gluten on this hub) and felt that what was missing from the conversation was inspirational stories of people who have turned having the condition into something really positive.
Enter Rana Roushdi, co-founder of Rana’s Artisan Bakery…
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had problems with my stomach, from random bouts of gastroenteritis through to food poisoning (or so I thought).
It was only when I was in my 20s, that I really felt there was something wrong with me. I was no longer vomiting regularly, it was now constant stomach cramps, bloating and severe tiredness. At the time I hadn’t realised that this was connected to the trouble I had concentrating, as well as having a foggy brain, thinning hair and irritability. This constant feeling became the norm and I was learning to live with it.
Over the course of 3 or 4 years, I had been to the GP complaining of tiredness, the symptom that bothered me the most. Lots of people complain of tiredness, but when you sleep for 15 or 16 hours a day and still feel like you haven’t slept, there is a problem! I remember feeling as though I was going into a coma every time I had my usual Nandos order of chicken breast in pitta (which I still miss!)
Eventually, after many blood tests for different deficiencies, diabetes, thyroid problems (not to mention several GPs) my latest GP decided to send me for the Coeliac blood test. I’d never heard of this auto immune disease, and the GP had told me it was very unlikely I had it, but he had run out of ideas. My blood test results came back positive, but as they are only 90% accurate, I was sent for a biopsy to confirm the results. I remember the night before, eating a huge bowl of pasta, in case it was going to be my last!
The biopsy confirmed the damage to my small intestine, and my life with Coeliac disease began. I was now officially commencing life without gluten.
It took a while for to adjust to it. I remember being relieved that I finally knew what was wrong with me, but also scared of the serious consequences of not sticking to a strict gluten free diet. I’d never really read the back of packets to look at ingredients before, and didn’t really know what gluten was in – everything it seemed!
I’ve always been a foodie, and LOVED eating out. In 2012, there were far fewer places to eat gluten free, and I felt the food that was available was very medicinal instead of enjoyable. One thing I really missed was good bread. A warm crusty bread, slathered in butter or cheese, became my dream.
I worked in investment management, and a lot of my colleagues and friends were fellow foodies. We talked a lot about the gaps in the gluten free market, and wondered why no one was doing anything about it, and so I decided to!
That’s when I started talking to my good friend’s husband, Alexander, who had worked for 15 years in the catering industry. After about a year and a half of researching, and then writing a business plan, we decided to take the plunge and quit our jobs. We used all our savings, and with a little help from family, started Rana’s Artisan Bakery. It had initially felt a bit like a project that we just talked about, but then came the plunge which was really quite a scary moment! I’m so pleased we took the time to plan everything, and for anyone thinking of starting a business, I can’t stress enough the importance of writing a plan first. We’ve had to learn A LOT, and we are still learning as we go, but a good business plan gives you the confidence that your business is viable, if nothing else.
I had the vision of a completely gluten free artisan bakery, producing the finest sourdough breads and bread mixes for home bakers. We do everything ourselves, from production to packaging, baking to fulfilling orders and everything in between, so we are very hands on with everything.
The feedback we’ve had has been amazing. We’ve now been trading for 18 months, and have won two Great Taste awards, as well as a Gold and two silvers at the FreeFrom Food Awards. We supply to restaurants, caterers and shops, as well as direct to consumer through our website: www.ranasbakery.com
We made the decision to be completely free from the 14 major allergens as well as vegan, when we moved into our new premises a couple of months ago. It’s been hard work sourcing the ingredients, but we feel it’s worth it for those with allergies to know there is no danger of cross contamination.
We are continually developing new products, which often result from requests and suggestions our customers make. Our latest products, gluten free sourdough bagels and baguettes, have had great feedback, and we want to continue to give our customers what they want.
Over the last few years, I’ve been so excited to see more places offering gluten free options. Other than bread, the food I missed the most was Chinese. So, I absolutely LOVE Naturally Chinese in Surbiton. As well as having many gluten free options (including crispy duck!), they are also free from MSG. It’s also great to see so many chains offering gluten free options. When I need to pick up a quick meal Leon is one of my favourites. Honest Burger and Dishoom are also favourites of mine. For cakes, you should definitely head to Pearl and Groove in Notting Hill, who have the most amazing range of gluten free cakes. I’d also recommend the Free From Festival, which is on a couple of times a year; lots of great food and a fantastic place to discover new products.
It’s definitely become easier to eat gluten free in the past few years. I know there are some Coeliacs who are unhappy with the ‘gluten free fad’, but the fact is that more people demanding gluten free options has resulted in the options that we can now see increasing and this demand is driving the food industry to take note and do something about it.
If going gluten free makes you feel better, then why not do it? People just need to be aware that gluten free products are not by definition healthier – you’ve got to keep an eye on the sugar content, preservatives and other nasties in many “free from” products, including those which are gluten free. It is shocking, for example, to see gluten free bread that can last for up to 6 months. Like anything, you need to be aware what you are eating; it’s great to see so many new gluten free options out there, but a final tip is to keep an eye on what is actually in them!
Thank you so much to Rana for sharing your amazing story, it’s wonderful to know that a Coeliac diagnosis can be such a force for positive change and, personally, I can’t wait to try some of that crusty bread!
Do you have a story of life after gluten that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you, email lea @ caneatattitude.com x