Coquitlam's Glutenull Bakery creates healthy treats inspired by the traditional recipes of Georgia
Otari Kobalia was born in Georgia, a European country located by the Black Sea, between Russia and Turkey. After being a successful mathematics teacher in his home country, he moved to Canada in 1996 and opened Glutenull in 2011 in Coquitlam, B.C. Being a vegetarian since the '80s, he saw the importance for gluten-free and vegan choices that are healthy, while still yummy. Glutenull's breads and nutrition bars have grown a cult following in Vancouver and can be found at over 200 stores in B.C. including Whole Foods, Choices, Save-on-Foods and Nature’s Fare markets.
We caught up with Otari to learn more about him and his health food company...
Q: When and why did you move to Canada?
A: I moved to Canada in 1996 with my wife and two kids. After we were kicked out of our home during the Georgian Civil War, we applied for landed immigrant status at the Canadian embassy in Budapest and were granted approval. We were very happy; this moment became our new beginning.
Q: Were you a baker in your home of Georgia?
A: I taught math at Sukhumi University in my hometown. My educational papers were submitted to the Canadian Evaluation Board, but were delayed until the year 2000. By this time, I had already started my bakery business in Canada and did not want to give iy up. I do not know what prompted me to open a bakery; perhaps it was a call of nature. My last name translates to “Bready” in Georgian and my mother’s last name translates as “Miller.”
Perhaps my decision to become a vegetarian in 1980 is what started it all. This was tough in the beginning; I always felt hungry. Many people did not believe I could survive on a vegetarian diet. I didn’t give up and began experimenting by creating treats for myself. Thus, unknowingly, I also became an inventor of a future project in my life that is now Glutenull.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on gluten-free treats?
A: When I first arrived in Canada, I had to learn a lot of new things, even how to cross the street! When I first started my bakery, I didn’t know anything about the business. Within the first eight years, two articles were written about my Georgian baguette in the press. In 2009, a customer asked me to make bread for his gluten intolerant child. I love a challenge, and so I started experimenting. We introduced buckwheat bread, which in the beginning looked and tasted more like clay than bread, but eventually we came up with the product available today and I’m very proud of it. There is no magic here... just hard work.
Q: What makes your product unique?
A: While most mass-produced breads and baked goods are made with chemicals and high-energy mixers to speed up fermentation, the production at Glutenull takes anywhere from four to 20 hours, allowing the natural enzymes to react with ingredients in their own time. In turn the products are richer in flavor, healthier and better for your digestion. In our books, slow and steady wins the race.
Q: How did you come up with the recipes?
A: I relied on intuition and experience, putting together ingredients that I thought would pair well. For example, our buckwheat granola bars are very similar to one of my all-time favourite nut-and-honey desserts called gozinaki, made in my birth country of Georgia. Though not well-known in other parts of the world, Georgian recipes are unique and have thousands of years of history. So here was my chance to use some tricks from my ancestors. In the end, through a process more of a musical composer, dozens of different compositions have been created that I am now proud to present to my customers.
Q: Your greatest obstacle?
A: Sugar. Wanting to make my product available to everyone, I had to find an alternative sweetener to refined sugar that was both natural and vegan. After some research and trials, I decided on coconut sugar, now used in most of our products including our Choco Moko cookies and our dark chocolate buckwheat cookies. The taste and texture of coconut sugar is a lot like brown sugar; yet in comparison, it contains less fructose, letting your liver metabolize it in a healthier way. In addition, coconut sugar has nutrients like zinc and iron as well as antioxidants.
Q: Who are Glutenull’s customers?
A: Although the emphasis of Glutenull is on gluten-free and vegan production, it is so much more than that and at the same time, so much simpler. It is just good food: natural, nourishing, ethical and delicious.
Our products don’t contain any allergens such as yeast, soy, gluten, dairy or eggs. We use only top quality non-GMO and organic ingredients and always choose quality over price. When you have quality ingredients, you also have a great tasting product loved by children, health enthusiasts and people who just enjoy clean, great tasting food.
Q: Your company offers 25 different treats. Which is your absolute favourite?
A: My favourite is our Hemp Energy Bar, because I matched the taste with a famous treat in Georgia called churchkhela. I believe the best way to make a tasty product is to recreate your favourite flavours from childhood.
Q: How would you describe your vision for Glutenull?
A: We don’t pretend to be bigger than we are but we do think big. In Euclidean geometry, a dot is an object, which doesn’t have dimensions. At the same time, the universe consists of dots.
Q: What is some advice you can give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: As a good friend once said to me, “It is better to lose with good, than to earn with bad.”
Q: How many people work for your B.C. company?
A: Twelve people work for Glutenull. There are five of us in production, where I am Figaro, appearing everywhere.
CREATED BY BCLIVING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH GLUTENULL.