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How Deanna’s Gluten Free Went From a Kind Act to Nationwide Success

Deanna Smith’s Gluten-free recipes start with whole ingredients. 

Deanna Smith’s Escondido-based business Deanna’s Gluten Free is one of the most successful gluten-free bakeries in the country, but the climb to success came from a loving good deed.

About 14 years ago, Smith felt sorry for her then 3-year-old cousin who couldn’t enjoy a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich or grilled cheese sandwich with her fellow cousins because she had Celiac disease. Eating traditionally baked bread would cause havoc on the young girl’s digestive system, and the gluten-free breads available at the time were tasteless. Deanna wanted to do something about it. 

Smith, who worked in marketing and had no prior baking experience, began researching gluten-free breads and decided to try to make something tastier than what was on the market at the time. This process took quite a bit of trial and error.

“I could actually make a small house out of all the brick bread that didn’t work,” Smith said. 

According to Smith, her inexperience was actually beneficial to her, as baking gluten-free bread is quite different from traditional baking. 

“If you’ve made regular bread, you know what it’s supposed to do,” she said. “Gluten-free bread is not regular bread. It’s really the complete opposite.”

Deanna’s Gluten-free bread is stacked with flavor.

Using ingredients such as rice flour and tapioca flour instead of wheat flour, she began perfecting her recipe. Smith also realized some gluten-free products used an abundance of sugar and preservatives in their products, which was something she didn’t want to do. 

Once she perfected her recipe for her niece, other family members and friends began asking her to make an extra loaf for them. Soon, her Sunday baking became the blueprint for a new business. 

“I did my homework, I perfected my recipe and I thought I was going to open a deli with sandwiches, pizza, salad and gluten-free pasta,” Smith said. “Well, the universe had a different idea.”

She began getting orders from Major Market Grocery. It ordered a couple dozen loaves a week which was the beginning for Deanna’s baking business. Smith started approaching other businesses including Whole Foods Market, Keil’s and Jimbo’s which both began placing weekly orders as well. 

Smith’s determination to expand her business led her to call one of the nation’s largest entertainment conglomerates. For two years, she called relentlessly leaving message after message and sending baked samples until one day, she finally made a connection.

“He finally picked up the phone and said to me, ‘today is your lucky day,’” Smith said. 

Before Smith knew it she was speaking with the global buyer for the company who asked her to fly out to Florida to meet with him and bring samples. Within the week, she was in his office letting him taste her delicious box of assembled samples. He was so impressed, he took her to the head chef of allergens who agreed her product was just right for them. Her products are now the private label for this company. 

“So long story short, I walked out of there, actually floated, out of there,” Smith said. 

Currently, Deanna’s Gluten Free bakes about 1,500 loaves of bread daily and nearly 50 additional types of pastry and gluten-free products a week. 

Locally, customers can find Deanna’s bread in more than 50 locations throughout San Diego and Los Angeles counties and in many local eateries such as Burger Bench and Mike’s BBQ. She has also partnered with the Hillebrect family, a four-generation run local farm at their locations at Farm Stand West and Fran’s Original Farm Stand, where they serve hot and ready-to-go items such as pizza, soups, pot pies and made-to-order sandwiches. 

Deanna’s gluten-free pizza and meat pies can be found at Fran’s Farm Stand.

The Deanna’s Gluten Free product line includes breads, cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, gingerbread and pies, including apple, pumpkin and blueberry. Her meat pies include chicken pot pie, turkey pot pie and beef pot pie. Pizzas, focaccia, flatbread, baguette, and one of Smith’s favorites, a cinnamon raisin bread, can be found at many of the places that offer her products. In addition to gluten-free products, Smith has a line of allergen-free foods including pizza crust, pie crust, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, dinner rolls and stuffing mix that is usually available year round.  

To keep up with the high and still growing demand for her products, Smith employs a team of dedicated staff including some family members. 

“My oldest son does my quality control, my cousin is my HR and accounting, and my daughter-in-law handles all the soups,” Smith said.

While Smith is still head baker, she relies on a core team to bake her recipes to perfection.

“I have had the same core team for at least 10 years,” she said. “They are so good, so loyal and really just great, hard-working people.”

Finding the right team meant hiring bakers who were open to a new kind of baking. In the beginning, Smith said she hired Le Cordon Bleu trained bakers to run her kitchen. However, their training in traditional bread-making didn’t line up with the very untraditional style it took to make her bread. 

Eventually, Smith realized she had to hire inexperienced bakers with a lot of drive to work in the kitchen. 

Although her kitchen is relatively small for the amount of product she creates daily, she makes it work because working in Escondido is all she ever wanted to do.

“I live here, I grew up here, my family is here,” Smith said. And that motivates her to keep her business in the city she calls home.

Another opportunity that grew out of Smith’s bread-making was the chance to teach others more about Celiac disease and eating gluten-free. 

“In the beginning, nobody knew what gluten was,” she said. “I had an education class once a month to explain it and give a cooking demonstration.”

This has led to a new initiative Smith is pursuing in local schools. She maintains a small organic farm in Escondido and she plans to work with students to educate them on farm-to-table growing. Her STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) program will give students a hands-on education while introducing them to the artistic side of culinary arts. 

Smith is currently creating a curriculum with Escondido Charter High School and Heritage High School.

While Smith contributes much of her success to hard work, she also believes her strong faith has played a role in getting her to this place. 

“I have to thank the universe and God almighty for giving me all these signs,” Smith said.

She also attributes much of her success to the incredible support and assistance she got from the Escondido community of business professionals and her friends when she was just starting out.

“Some of the local bakery owners took time to give me tours and shared resources for industrial equipment, told me how to source bulk ingredients, and directed me to the best realtor in town to find the right building,” Smith said. “I could go on and on but long story short, my community has always had a great hand in my teachings and my successes. Escondido is an amazing place with amazing people who are very often willing to help their neighbors.”