Gluten-free goodies are easier to get in Tucson thanks to Susan Fulton and Mary Gibson.
In November, the duo opened Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery/Bistro in the old home of Candela Peruvian Restaurant, 5845 N. Oracle Road.
Every Tuesday through Sunday, the 2,000-square-foot eatery serves up a rotating menu of culinary delights, including English muffins, éclairs, pizza crusts, French bread and cupcakes; each one completely absent of gluten, the protein found in wheat and other related grains.
The restaurant is geared primarily toward people whose bodies can't handle gluten, especially those who suffer from celiac disease, a condition where gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestine.
Fulton and Gibson first came up with the idea for a gluten-free restaurant nearly three years ago.
Gibson, 46, was trained at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and has worked as a pastry chef in high-end restaurants and resorts from Sedona to Alaska.
Fulton, 61, while not a trained chef, came from a family of foodies.
"They thought about food every minute they were awake and dreamed about it too," Fulton said.
The two met through a networking group for professionals and began a catering business together.
When a client asked them to create some gluten-free menu items for a party, the idea intrigued them.
Neither Fulton nor Gibson had extreme sensitivities to gluten, but felt it was an untapped market in Tucson.
"We started playing with some things," Gibson said. "We explored the products at the grocery store and knew we could do better."
The two began working on alternative flours, creating items that they would eventually take to the farmers markets in Oro Valley and St. Philip's Plaza.
There was a tremendous amount of trial and error, Fulton said.
"This was a whole new chemistry," Gibson said. "It was nothing like I was used to. I had to change my way of thinking."
By the time they opened the restaurant late last year, they had already built up a significant clientele and a book full of recipes.
Gibson said the best part about the whole experience is the camaraderie that comes with being gluten-free.
"People will come in separately, sit at different tables but start this dialogue with each other, sharing stories on how they found out they were gluten intolerant," Gibson said.
Both she and Fulton have since taken on strict gluten-free diets.
Gibson added, "Everyone is a friend."
Bethany Boyd, a Tucson resident with a long history of gluten intolerance, discovered the Gourmet Girls at the St. Philip's farmers market more than a year ago.
The nail technician was thrilled when she heard they had a formal restaurant in the works.
"Every time I saw them, I would ask them how close it was to opening," she said.
Boyd stops in at the bistro two to three times a week, despite living on the south side of Tucson.
"Knowing that there are homemade baked goods that won't make you sick is worth every penny and every mile," she said.
November Papaleo saw the restaurant's grand opening sign six months ago while driving south on North Oracle Road.
"I made a three-lane change in about 25 feet," she said.
As a diagnosed celiac disease sufferer, Papaleo has made her way through every last item on both the breakfast and lunch menus, including all of the sandwiches, salads and soups.
Her favorite is the French bread.
"Gluten-free bread is usually bloody awful," she said. "Just finding something for a sandwich or to put in soup, or having bread that is soft is a huge deal in my world."
Right now, the focus for the Gourmet Girls is on the restaurant, but new plans are in the works.
The two have already started selling gluten-free items, such as breads and pizza crusts, wholesale to restaurants in the area.
Fulton also hopes they can delve further into pies, which they have found to be extremely popular on trial runs.
"It is something most gluten-free people can't get," she said. "Pies are so American - apple pie, cherry pie, pumpkin pie. It is sad when you can't have that."
Fulton said what makes the restaurant special is that it is an entirely gluten-free environment.
"When you can't have gluten, you are used to dissecting things and saying you can't have this or that," she said. "Here, you can have anything."
If you go
• What: Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery/Bistro
• When: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
• Where: 5845 N. Oracle Road
• More info: 408-9000 or
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at email@example.com or 807-8430.