HATTON, N.D. — Due North owners Kristi Hovland and Mary Moser are quick to tell customers what their cookies, cakes and pastries don’t taste like. They don't, the stress, taste like gluten-free baked goods.
One bite of Due North GF Bakery and Goods’ quick breads, cakes, cookies and pastries proves the women are right. As their business card says: “Shhhh. Nobody noticed it was gluten free!”
Due North GF, founded in Grand Forks about a year ago, on Monday, March 22, will open a location in Hatton, N.D., Hovland’s former hometown.
As someone who for many years has had a gluten intolerance, Hovland has eaten plenty of gluten-free products that were, at best, bland, she said. Baking treats and breads with the gluten-free flour she purchased didn’t bring much improvement.
“I got frustrated with everything. It was usually gritty or dense, and had an aftertaste,” Hovland said.
She spent months calibrating and combining ingredients and testing oven temperatures. Then, one night when she was sleeping, a vision of making gluten-free pancakes came to her. The next morning, Hovland wrote down the ingredients exactly as she had made them in her dream.
The pancakes were delicious, so Hovland used her dreamed-up recipe as an inspiration for other baked goods.
“There was a lot of trial and error — and it was mostly error,” she said. She persevered, though, researching questions about how to successfully convert her traditional family recipes to gluten-free.
“There was so much stuff we needed to learn,” Hovland said.
For example, besides developing a flour — Due North uses a mixture of seven different flours, which they combine themselves — they had to figure out things like whether they needed to add more liquid to the conventional recipes or tweak the amount of leavening.
While many of the changes Hovland made were the result of information she gleaned from articles on the internet, she also used a good measure of her own intuition, she said.
“They felt right,” Hovland said.
Besides figuring out the correct proportions of ingredients, another learning curve was determining the baking temperature, Moser said.
“Some, you have to bake on the warmer side; some you have to bake on the cooler side,” she said
As the flavor and texture of Hovland’s baked goods improved, she began sharing them with co-workers at her day job.
“My officemates were guinea pigs, and they did a lot of sampling,” she said. It was important to have them taste-test the items because she wanted customers who aren’t gluten-intolerant, or have celiac disease, to also enjoy eating them, she said.
“I’ve worked really hard to get them so they’re good for everyone,” Hovland said.
By July 4, 2020, Hovland and Moser had developed gluten-free baked goods that they believed could be sold, so they signed up for a booth at the Town Square Farmer’s Market in Grand Forks.
Though the number of customers who shopped at the farmers' market was reduced because of COVID-19, the response to the women’s baked goods was overwhelming, Hovland said. The reviews of their products were equally good when they sold them at Pride of Dakota shows in fall 2020, she said.
For many of their customers at the shows, the samples — gluten-free pastries, which included caramel rolls and cinnamon rolls — were the first they’d eaten in years, Hovland said.
“It was like having gold. They’d do the happy dance,” she said.
After their business started growing, Hovland left her job in Grand Forks so she can work full-time at Due North. Moser, who works full-time in the health care industry, assists Hovland with baking on evenings and weekends.
On the business side of their venture, Due North has received a lot of support, from organizations such as Pride of Dakota and agencies such as SCORE, Hovland said.
“Everyone is so willing to help. That’s been amazing to us," she said.
As word of their gluten-free baked goods spread, the women started shipping them to customers across the United States, including to California, Indiana and Arizona. They also make regular trips to deliver Due North products to customers in Fargo, Oakes and Jamestown.
Besides a variety of gluten-free bakery items and coffees, Due North will sell its flour and cookie mixes at its location in Hatton. By early July, they hope to have perfected a flour that they can use for bread baking and to begin offering sandwiches made with that bread.
Meanwhile, commercial businesses have expressed interest in featuring their gluten-free items in stores, Moser said.
“We have a niche, and I think that’s why we can make this work,” Hovland said.