A Gluten-Free Bite of Heaven

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By Maya Guimaraes Owner and self-taught baker Denise Cumming, armed with her family recipes, wanted to create delicious desserts for people with celiac disease, a digestive disorder that makes people unable to tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley-and most regular baked goods. "When my mom started to change her recipes to be gluten-free, every time we came home from school they would taste better and better. Now, I can't tell the difference," said Drew Cumming, Denise's son, who assists his mom in the bakery when he is home from college. When the Cumming family discovered their youngest child, Olivia, had celiac disease, they went through the difficult process of altering their diet. "It is a lifestyle change. We had to transform everything around us," Denise Cumming said. "My daughter is very sensitive. Any contact with gluten would immediately make her feel sick." Since 2007, the family has adapted to the new lifestyle and eventually neither of the kids could taste a difference in their mom's cooking. "That's when I thought about opening a bakery," Cumming said. "I knew I was moving to New York with my husband, my kids were away for college, and I thought I could make my hobby of baking into something bigger." Inspired by Olivia, Pip's Place, at 1729-21 1st Ave., near East 90th Street, has been open for only two months but has already served 10,000 people. "It's been bigger than I ever thought it could be," said Cumming, though it requires complete dedication. Cumming opens the store at 7 a.m. and stays until 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Now, with the full-time help of her husband and a growing love for her regulars, Denise said she would eventually like to open a second Pip's in another neighborhood. The bakery offers cookies, cakes, muffins and bread. "I tried the recipe over 20 times before it actually came out the way I wanted," Cumming said, proudly hoisting a loaf of bread. Her hope is to start selling gluten-free bread daily and to deliver to the people who want it and don't live in her neighborhood, which she has come to adore. "I love it here. Everybody has been so nice. The fruit guy brings me bananas; other business owners come by just to wish me good luck. I couldn't have hoped for more." But not everything is perfect. Some customers have asked Cumming to make her sweets for people with other types of food allergies. "These are my grandmother's recipes; I do my best to make them gluten-free, but certain types of ingredients need to be there," she said. "Pip's is a gluten-free bakery. I am also offering some muffins dairy-free, but I cannot make too many changes." As the bakery's popularity grows and Cumming begins to hire more staff, Pip's is already full of regulars. Sonia Coletta, a real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood, said she loves the baked goods from Pip's. "I buy it and I give it to my co-workers. They have great little boxes and it makes a great gift," Coletta said. "I'm not gluten intolerant, but as I walk home, instead of stopping by at Starbucks I just come here. It is much nicer."

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