In recent years, gluten-free foods have become popular, in part due to increasing awareness of celiac disease and other gluten intolerances. In the Southern Tier, Jessamine Daly-Griffen has taken her own family’s personal experiences with gluten issues and turned them into a lucrative business venture with a social consciousness.
Two of Daly-Griffen’s children deal with gluten intolerance. Incorporating that into her family’s diet, she developed recipes that eventually caught the attention of folks outside her home.
“Our family discovered a need to go gluten free about 13 years ago,” Daly-Griffen said. “I was working in a restaurant, and the owners asked me to bake gluten free for the customers.
“People with gluten intolerance would come in, and when they were able to eat there after not being able to eat in public for so long, well, it was very moving, and definitely where the spark for this was lit. Another restaurant picked me up, so I was doing product for two, and then eventually three, restaurants. Then private orders began coming in, and that’s when I knew I had to go into business.”
Daly-Griffen started Om Nohm Gluten Free in her family’s hometown of Fredonia. The business bakes wholesome, dedicated gluten-free goodies for restaurants and farmer's markets in Chautauqua County, specializing also in vegan foods. After spending 2018 working out of a food truck, the company opened its first brick-and-mortar location in February.
Local small business supports helped Daly-Griffen on her entrepreneurial journey getting Om Nohm off the ground.
“I had a lot to learn, and I learned so much from mentors along the way,” Daly-Griffen said. “The Small Business Development Center at Jamestown Community College was a huge resource. I also went through a community development organization--Chautauqua Opportunities for Development Inc.”
Daly-Griffen said those organizations assisted with important things like establishing financial projections so that she could move forward with requesting financing and creating a structure around her products. She lauded CODI for providing small business loans with low interest rates, which helped her finance renovating an 1872 structure on Temple Street as Om Nohm’s new home.
Having a strong business plan and vision helped her to secure other sources of capital, as well. Daly-Griffen was the recipient of a $25,000 Ignite Buffalo grant. She said the Western New York community has been very supportive of her small business ambitions.
“The support is there, you just have to ask for it,” she added. “I could have started elsewhere and maybe had faster success. But it’s time for a renaissance. We’ve seen it in Buffalo. Cleveland is seeing it. Detroit, Dunkirk, Fredonia--these are tiny versions of that. It’s time to see our region experience that renaissance.”
And while she gives credit to those who have helped Om Nohm along the way, Daly-Griffen said there have been frustrations, as well.
“I say this with all the love for all the men in my life: I feel like business is a big dude show,” she said. “It’s very hard to be taken seriously as a woman with business ambitions. But the women that have helped me have helped with the language men understand and that they use in the business community.
“The reality is that it is very hard to be taken seriously as a woman business owner in our small town.”
There have been other obstacles, as well, like renovating a very old structure. But the hard work has paid off for the Daly-Griffen family now that they’re finally in their own space. And it’s a unique and inclusive one.
Om Nohm prides itself on collaborating and commissioning with local artists in every aspect of the business. From its uniforms, hats, aprons, logo design, and art in the building, it’s inviting creative people in the community and paying them for their contributions.
The bakery/café has a current art installation called Table Revolution that commissions different artists in the community to create their own interpretations of a theme on the table top to start conversations and keep the room dynamic. Om Nohm also hosts open mic nights, which sometimes feature her three children, all of whom play instruments.
The business also wants to be recognized as a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ people.
“We might be one of the first places in Fredonia as an openly identified safe space for the LGBTQ community,” she said. “It’s really important to me with my own family and own group of friends, and if we have one business that outs itself right out there on the door, then others will follow.”
Additionally, the bakery hosts pop-up lunches with local farmers. With so much happening for the business, Daly-Griffen has had to hire four part-time employees in the past month. She said she currently has a “big stack” of restaurants on the horizon requesting her products, which will be making their way north to the Buffalo-metro area in the near future.
“People are timid to try gluten-free food, which is a shame because our flavors are outrageous,” she added. “I don’t have the typical flavors and foods you find in a bakery. Each one is a work of art. I try to make it like a story with a beginning, middle, and an end with texture, flavor, and shape.”
Daly-Griffen hopes to add a second bakery location within five years and possibly a brewery with gluten-free beers in the next decade. Her big dream is to eventually start a holistic retreat center for the Chautauqua community somewhere on Lake Erie.
“I could retire teaching yoga, but I can’t bake until I’m 80,” she joked. “This is hard work!”
She also gave much credit to her husband, Jeremy, and children, Willow, Ezra, and Hazel, for their patience and support.
“They understand on a deep level why we’re doing this business,” she said. “Two of the three have gluten-free needs and they really understand it in their own lives. They’re excited to walk into a place and know they can eat anything on the menu.
“The reality is this is a spirited business that’s all about nurturing people,” she continued. “There is just such a joy to bringing food to people that normally wouldn’t be able to eat out. Food is a really important thing in communities and relationships. People with special food needs don’t get that in their lives as often. Om Nohm Gluten-Free is about that--letting those people with food needs share the experience.