As those of you who follow this column with any regularity know, we are huge fans of Tia’s Bakery, whose products were first listed locally at Scottsdale and Paradise Valley branches of Whole Foods Market in June of last year. They’ve been gaining popularity both locally and nationally ever since and we’re thrilled to report that they are now available at the Gluten Free Country Store in Gilbert as well.
The brand is also in the midst of finalizing travel dates for some local appearances in the Greater Phoenix area next month, and we’ll keep you posted on those and provide confirmation when available. In the meantime, we were fortunate enough to talk to Tia’s Bakery founder Marilyn King recently to discuss everything from healthy baking Tia’s style to a new gluten-free pot pie. Intrigued? Read on…
Examiner: Tell us about your background. Are you a trained chef or was this a hobby that turned into a career and a business?
MK: I have always loved to bake since first learning from my grandmother, Tia Ida. She helped to instill my love of cooking when I was very young. I have been baking professionally for more than 25 years.
Examiner: How have you succeeded in taking your line of baked goods from your own kitchen to national distribution in a matter of two years?
MK: For years I only baked for my friends, family, church and a very select few customers. Several years ago I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and I was devastated. So much so, I stopped baking altogether.
After a few years my family (led by my hardheaded husband) cornered me, demanding that I again bake the goodies that they had become accustomed to … I spent almost two years re-working recipes – my own and those of my grandmother. My goal: to create desserts with the same delicious taste, smells and textures as before but without wheat or refined sugars (I’m sensitive to refined sugar as well).
Examiner: What do you feel has been the greatest factor in your success?
MK: Stubbornness and a supportive family. Once I decided to market Tia’s Bakery gluten-free desserts, I knew the products had to be a testament to the love of baking I shared with Tia Ida and be created with only healthy, all-natural ingredients. And my family (I’m sure out of a healthy sense of self-preservation) was very supportive.
Examiner: What has been your greatest obstacle along the way?
MK: Initial financing was a huge challenge. Tia’s Bakery was launched on January 1, 2009, during the worst economic climate in [recent memory]. Finding the funding was very tough and we relied on ingenuity and perseverance to make it all happen. My family and I sacrificed a great deal to bring Tia’s Bakery to life.
Examiner: The name of the brand is Tia’s Bakery but your own name is Marilyn. What is the story behind this?
MK: How Tia’s Bakery got its name is rather funny. My husband (General Manager of Tia’s Bakery), my mother and I were discussing different names for our new company one quiet evening. Also with us was my niece Danielle, 12 years old at the time, who was curled up on the couch reading a book. After listening to us grown-ups go back and forth over and over different names and reasons for names, I guess she simply was fed up and wanted some peace and quiet. Danielle gathered her blanket and book, walked directly in front of me and proclaimed, ‘Your name is Tia right? Why don’t you just name it Tia’s Bakery?’ (Tia means aunt in Spanish). After we all stopped laughing, we decided upon Tia’s Bakery as the name.
Examiner: How would you define your baking style?
MK: Homemade, fun and delicious. Can you remember when your mom or grandma would decide, out of the blue, to bake cookies or a cake? Remember the excitement and sense of anticipation you had knowing that you’d be able to lick the beaters once she was done? That’s my style: homemade and fun.
Examiner: Why do you use nut- and coconut-based ingredients and unrefined sweeteners in your products?
MK: The almond and coconut flour was decided on after many, many experiments with different grains and flours. They allow me to achieve the all-important texture and taste for my cakes and cookies.
Refined sugar is simply not a part of anyone’s healthy diet. Refined sugars have been processed to a point that they contain no vitamins or minerals; all that’s left is refined carbohydrates, which our bodies can’t use. Medical health professionals have known this for decades. Did you know that Dr. William Coda Martin classified refined sugar as a poison back in 1957?
Examiner: Are you gluten intolerant yourself or sensitive to other food allergens?
MK: Yes, like millions of Americans, I am gluten intolerant. I also have a severe allergy to refined sugars.
Examiner: You have the only commercially available black bean brownie in the US. What was the inspiration behind it? How do consumers typically react to the concept and the taste?
MK: Black bean brownies have been around for many, many years. I was intrigued by the concept and actually curious about the taste. Mostly, I created our Chocolate Bean Brownie as a ‘gotcha’ for my husband, Paul. When he first tasted it, he loved the flavor, even though he isn’t a chocolate lover – but you should have seen the expression on his face when I told him exactly what it was made with.
During our product launch test marketing, customers were amazed by the fudgy goodness and chocolaty taste and so many exclaimed ‘amazing!’ upon learning that the primary ingredient is black beans that we almost named it the ‘Amazing Brownie’.
Examiner: What is your best-selling item?
MK: Our best-sellers are the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and the Peanut Butter Cookies. Depending on which day of the week, either of the two has the top slot.
Examiner: What’s your personal favorite in the Tia’s Bakery line?
MK: The German Chocolate Cake. My husband’s favorite is the Tropical Banana Cake.
Examiner: What product would you most recommend to someone who’s never tried a Tia’s Bakery item before?
MK: The Grandma’s Chocolate Cake; it tastes exactly as the name implies.
Examiner: Are all Tia’s products non-GMO?
Examiner: Will you be introducing any new items this year, or do you have any in development?
MK: We will bring out a couple of new items in 2011. I don’t want to give away too much, so let me tease you with these: a vegan ice cream sandwich and gluten-free chicken pot pie.