Gluten-free is here to stay.
So says Molly Miller, owner of Sift Gluten-Free bakery, which will open in the Northrop neighborhood of south Minneapolis in mid-November.
“I think enough people are making the connection with how what they eat influences how they feel,” she says on the chilly morning we meet in the under-construction space on 46th Street and Bloomington Avenue. The petite brunette with freckled skin isn’t quite set up to bake yet; instead of an apron, she’s dressed in an army green coat and black leggings with a big scarf wrapped around her neck. Unopened cardboard boxes clutter the cafe area, and the bakery cases and appliances have yet to arrive.
But even if the bakery isn’t ready to open, she says Minneapolitans are ready for a gluten-free bakery. “Thankfully, a lot of people are over that [gluten-free stigma],” Miller says. “They’re like, ‘I’m not gluten-free, but I’m willing to try it.’ And other people who aren’t there yet, that’s okay, they’ll try it at some point.”
Even gluten lovers will find it hard to resist Miller’s treats -- classics with all-natural, high-brow twists, like browned butter krispie treats (made with homemade marshmallows, Ames Farm honey, Walsh Ridge Farm maple syrup, and grass-fed gelatin); mocha, chocolate, or raspberry donuts dripping with glaze; or subtly sweet and surprisingly moist zucchini and walnut muffins.
Miller is a longtime baker, but she didn’t fathom starting her own bakery until she went gluten-free eight years ago and shared her baked goods with friends suffering from celiac disease. Encouraged by their praise, she started selling her scones, cinnamon rolls, and cookies at farmers markets while maintaining her full-time job as a writer and editor in marketing and publishing.
By the end of the first farmers market season, she was supplying Peace Coffee with bakery items; a few months later, Dunn Brothers came calling. Over a dozen coffeeshops followed suit. A year-and-a-half into her baking experiment, she quit her full-time job. She's been baking ever since.
Last year, the building that formerly housed Sisters’ Sludge coffeeshop went on the market. “The price was right. I just couldn’t say no,” Miller says. “It has a great neighborhood vibe. You get lots of local traffic.”
The space, which was previously divided into four, is now split into two. Sift occupies half with its ample cafe and kitchen; Green Bee Juicery is the new tenant in the adjacent space. Miller met the founders of Green Bee while both were prepping out of co-working commercial kitchen CityFoodStudio on Chicago Avenue.
Aside from the windows, there are no remnants of the former Sisters’ Sludge occupancy. Construction started on the space this past summer, transforming the once-dark, cramped coffeeshop into a roomy, minimalist hang. The cafe area will accommodate 20 between bar stools, high-tops, and other seating configurations. Outdoor seating will be available in the summertime.
A kitchen designer assisted with the layout, but Miller tackled the soon-to-be-revealed aesthetic on her own. Her brother and father, both woodworkers, built custom tables that will hang on the wall. The weekend prior to our interview, they installed handmade maple cabinet paneling along the front of the bakery case and coffee bar.
“I get a little emotional when I think about it because it’s fun to have their touch on it,” Miller says when she points out the woodwork.
A sign above the coffee condiment station is the only wall decoration she has planned for now. “I don’t want it to feel too cluttered,” she says. “I think if we just move in, see how it feels, we can figure out what to add.”
A swinging door will separate the cafe area from the kitchen, but a rectangular cut-out in the wall will allow bakers to see customer activity and vice-versa.
The kitchen is just as ample as the café area. Miller plans to install two ovens, a range, a three-compartment sink with dishwasher, a refrigerator, a freezer, and an ice machine. At the time of our visit, she was trying to figure out how to move a 1200-pound oven that didn’t initially fit under the massive vent hood. (Ah, the joys of small business ownership.) Wood flooring will also be installed before the tentative November 15 opening date.
Sift’s menu will expand along with the kitchen space; in addition to the usual selection of muffins, donuts, scones, breakfast bites, brownies, cookies, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, and other “little specialty things that I’ve made in the past that I’ve kind of stopped making because of time,” Miller says she’ll begin offering basic loaves of bread, rolls, buns, bagels, pizza crust, English muffins, and other “stuff that you really miss if you’re gluten free.”
The full coffee menu will include espresso drinks. She’ll also have a grab-and-go freezer. Sandwiches and soup may be on the horizon for the future. Sift’s hours will likely be 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. She hopes the later weeknight hours will encourage people to pop in for bread or desserts on their way home from work.
There will also be samples available for those trepidatious individuals who come for the coffee but are wary of gluten-free baked goods. Miller’s converted more than a few customers in the past; every once in a while, one of her luscious-looking donuts will catch a kid’s eye at the farmers market. He’ll ask his mom for the donut, and she gets to the point of pulling out her wallet when she notices it’s gluten-free.
“Then she kind of steers her kid away. Or tries to talk him out of it but the kid with throw a fit,” Miller says. “And I just say, ‘You know what? It’s really delicious. And if you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.’”
So far, she’s stayed in the black.
4557 Bloomington Ave., Minneapolis