A dedicated gluten-free bakery — the only one of its kind in Prince William County, Virginia — officially opened Friday. It’s already become a haven for those who can’t eat most pastries sold in stores.
The new bakery, Honey and Ivy, is located at 9105 Center Street in Old Town Manassas — near the train station. The owners said their goal goes beyond the novelty.
“Our goal is for it to just be good period, not good for being gluten-free,” said Emily Hamby, who has celiac disease and runs the bakery with head decorator Morgan Ulisse.
Hamby said oftentimes people who have to eat gluten-free must check every ingredient in their food wherever they go. But, at her bakery, they’re able to eat without all that stress.
“The joy of walking into a place and knowing that you can order anything on the menu is not something that we experience very often,” Mary Beth Keenan, a longtime customer, told WTOP. “It’s kind of a dreamland to come in and know that whatever we see, whatever looks good is safe for us.”
Before opening its brick-and-mortar location, Honey and Ivy operated a stand at farmers markets in Haymarket and Manassas, beginning in the spring of 2022. That’s where Keenan, who’s gluten intolerant, first encountered the business.
Since then, Keenan has enjoyed the bakers’ hot biscuits, scones, cinnamon rolls and even a birthday cake made for her mother — who is also gluten intolerant.
“The decorations were completely gorgeous. Like, the cake was amazing,” said Keenan, who lives within walking distance of the bakery. “Our gluten-eating friends went back for seconds.”
Why are people cutting out gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, rye and barley, according to the celiac foundation. People avoid eating it for a variety or reasons. For some, it’s part of a greater diet to deal with health conditions, while others find they get sick when they partake.
People with celiac disease, or who have a gluten intolerance, risk triggering an immune response when they partake in gluten products.
“Even just a little speck of gluten can make us have some of our symptoms,” said Keenan, who has been eating gluten free for a decade.
Those symptoms can range from gut problems to headaches and rashes. There are possible long-lasting effects for people with celiac who eat gluten, including anemia, loss of bone density and weight loss.
Even food that was cross-contaminated with gluten (ex: eating food prepared on shared surfaces like toasters), can pose a danger for some. That can make eating out at restaurants challenging.
One customer, Jasmine Lane of Culpeper, is new to the gluten-free game. She was diagnosed with a wheat allergy six months ago — and she’s also allergic to shellfish and coconut.
“When you have allergies, you have to carry your EpiPen around,” she said. “So it’s awesome just to be able to come out to a safe place to eat something and not have to worry about going into anaphylactic shock.”
The bakery’s origin story
“I was really lucky in Knoxville to not have a problem being able to find gluten-free foods. They have everything under the sun,” Hamby said of her time living in Tennessee.
It was a different story when she moved to Virginia three years ago.
“I had to start cooking and baking every single thing that I ate,” she said.
Hamby said she had trouble finding gluten-free options and eventually used her background in the restaurant business to bring her own baked goods to local farmers markets.
After finding success there, she brought on Ulisse as a co-owner. Ulisse began eating gluten free six years ago after having health issues following the birth of her son. She said the new diet cured her migraines.
A rare thing for gluten-free eaters — choices
Keenan said she jokes with friends that sometimes “our only option is the gluten-free option, but the only flavors are the gluten-free flavor,” as oftentimes places that do offer a gluten-free alternative only have one option for customers.
Honey and Ivy stands out in that regard, she said, with a variety of “distinct” and “powerful flavors.”
Bakeries with gluten-free options have sometimes opted to conceal that label — possibly because of stigma surrounding the taste and texture of many gluten-free options.
But Honey and Ivy has taken the opposite approach, working to “get the word out,” Hamby said.
“We know that people are going to walk in off the street that might not have gluten sensitivities or anything, and try us and love us and come back,” she said. “But really, just sharing the word with the people who need our products, helping them know that we’re here.”
In response to skeptics who doubt the quality of gluten-free treats, Hamby said things have changed in the past two decades she’s eaten a gluten-free diet.
“Back in the day, it was not good,” Hamby said. “You could not get anything that wasn’t cardboard texture and bland and it’s come a long way.”
The improvement in taste and texture is, in part, thanks to the increasing number of people interested in eating gluten free, Hamby said.
“More companies are putting money into researching it,” she said.
Danni Moya, a 32-year-old dancer and development director at Manassas Ballet Theatre, said she’s been a fan of the business since its early days at the farmers market. She’s avoided gluten for 10 years because it makes her feel sick. However, Honey and Ivy’s confections have given her a grateful reprieve.
“I feel like I’m eating gluten again without feeling bad,” she said.