It’s the savoury aromas that first draw you towards the ‘Wheatless’ marquee. As a Coeliac, it’s difficult to describe the excitement I felt when I first saw it, and on tasting the food, I can only describe the experience as Coeliac food heaven.
I watched as the owner of the business Aidan Doherty and his brother Ben cheerfully chatted with customers, while wearing their specially printed aprons which display their slogan ‘trust me I’m a Coeliac’. They listened to and shared stories about Coeliac experiences with their customers, forming almost, a support group atmosphere. As a Coeliac I found it extremely comforting that the person cooking my food, understands the disease, and knows from experience exactly what can go wrong if glutened.
Aidan started his business ‘Wheatless’ in August 2018, and it is a 100 per cent Gluten Free fast food business which serves fresh handmade, gourmet pancakes and burgers. He operates in farmers markets across Munster and also caters for all occasions including weddings and birthdays. In Limerick they are at the Crescent Shopping Centre Market every Friday from 10am until 4pm and the Milk Market on Saturdays from 8am until 2pm.
“The biggest motivating factor in creating the business for me was the complete lack of high quality, gourmet Gluten Free (GF) and Wheat Free (WF) food available in the marketplace.
“For Coeliacs, convenience is not a word we use in abundance when looking for food while out on a daily basis. I wanted to prove that GF and WF food can be delicious and that having Coeliac disease and intolerance doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality,” said Aidan.
Having being diagnosed six years ago by complete accident in the UK, Aidan said he had suffered symptoms for many years prior to this and it was completely missed in Ireland, now knowing the signs and symptoms, he and his family have realised that Coeliac disease and Gluten intolerance is prevalent in his family.
“I believe it is similar for most other families but they have not been diagnosed yet. Once diagnosed, I hadn’t heard of the disease before or knew anyone with it. It was a difficult dietary adjustment but it really got me into cooking which was a good thing. The gluten free market has come a long way since then in supermarkets at least, but has a long way to go to offer high quality, convenient food for us,” added Aidan.
Aidan said it baffles him as to why it is so difficult to get a Coeliac diagnosis in Ireland, “Ireland has one of the highest propensities to Coeliac disease in the world. The medical community is not as aware nor have the conviction of testing people to identify these issues. A lack of training might point to it, but it has to be a government led testing programme as a simple screening process for this disease may save a lot of money in investigating other avenues that may be simply fixed by a GF diet”.
As well as the clever slogans on their aprons, their other slogan is “No Grain, No Pain” which they use because it’s catchy and fun.
“Coeliacs have to be so careful when eating out and trust is a pertinent issue for us. There is a high level of confidence and comfort knowing you are being served by a fellow Coeliac,” said Aidan.
When Coeliacs first come to their stall, Aidan said their reaction is Surprise. They cannot believe that everything on the menu is gluten and wheat free and that there is so much choice of things that they couldn’t ordinarily have, “Once the shock subsides and they realise they can have everything, everybody is filled with excitement.
“The Coeliac community is very open and share their stories in a frank manner. Every customer I meet, whether a direct sufferer or not, tells me about their experience or family members’ experience living with Coeliac disease or intolerances.
“All of these people suffer a myriad of symptoms and no two cases are the same. It can affect sufferers in many different ways. We are living in a society now where people, for the most part, are more in tune with what they eat and how it may affect their health”.
‘Wheatless’ is going from strength to strength, and Aidan said his food is being enjoyed not just by Coeliacs but by everybody, “That was the key for me when starting the business. Serve high quality gourmet food that just so happened to be gluten and wheat free that nobody could tell the difference and to date it has worked. My food appeals to everybody, not just a niche section of the population”.
Aidan’s ambitions for the business are to operate in more farmers markets, then to go on and establish a brick and mortar restaurant and eventually to franchise the business to cover a nationwide market. Ultimately, he would like to see ‘Wheatless’ as being the GF and WF McDonalds of the world.
“Eating Gluten and Wheat free does not have to mean a lack of flavour or quality. I am doing my best to prove this to people and it is working thus far. A lot more needs to be done in offering high quality, not just an option, which can often mean salad without the croutons,” added Aidan.