Give Me Gluten Free —
For Wedding, for Life and for Flavor!
by Sheila Heathcote
Wedding cakes for special diets, a modern convenience, is alive and well on Kaua`i at Sweet Marie’s Hawai`i.
Marie Cassel and her staff are the first in the state to offer gluten-free wedding cakes to those who suffer from celiac disease. They’re so popular, her business is luring visitors here.
“Brides are actually planning to hold their weddings on Kaua`i so they can get a gluten-free wedding cake,“ says Cassel who recently was named the 2012 Small Business Association’s Kaua`i Small Business Person of the Year.
Gluten is a protein component of processed wheat, rye, oats, barley and other hybrid grains. Unfortunately, About 10 percent of the population reportedly suffers from wheat or gluten allergies that cause severe digestive distress.
Gluten-free baking, in fact, is what sets Cassel’s business apart from the ordinary baker. Cassel became motivated to help people with celiac disease after being diagnosed with the ailment herself.
Cassel shifted her business recently to a sunny 1,444 square foot eatery with Victorian tables and high-backed chairs located on prime real estate on Lihue’s main drag. It’s reminiscent of a Left Bank café with a Hawaiian flair, where fluffy, delicate, gluten-free goodies peek through glass display cabinets and line the huge koa counter. The aroma of fresh cookies is mouth-watering.
“It wasn’t easy to prepare this new space and move the operation to Lihue`, but I had help,” says Cassel. ”Randall Francisco of the Kaua`i Chamber of Commerce and Connie Clausen of American Savings Bank were instrumental.”
Opened in January of this year, Sweet Marie’s began serving restaurant style items – from a “simple menu” — in early May. The business employs eight people in both full and part-time positions.
“Not only have I, personally, done everything from installing floors to creating a web page, I insist that all my employees are cross-trained and able to do every different type of job the business requires – from baking by recipe to mopping the floor.”
Training and keeping employees with good work ethics are her biggest challenges, Cassel admits. “But my Dad taught me to hire high school kids and the handicapped, which I have done. It pays off.”
Cassel finds that nurturing and accommodating people with special dietary needs can be extremely rewarding.
“Eighty percent of my business is visitor-supported,” says Cassel. “Success is getting repeat customers. Knowing that people seek me out and find me for the products I provide are how I measure success.”
And, Cassel doesn’t plan to stop there. Besides a gluten-free cookbook that is in the works, Cassel hopes to promote her wholesale business, open a manufacturing facility and franchise Sweet Marie’s across the island, the state and the ocean, if possible.
“I already have clients who want to buy franchises and invest, Cassel laughs, “ and I also watch Shark Tank every Friday night!”
Sweet Marie’s restaurant is located at 3-3204 Kuhio Hwy., Lihu`e. Reach her at 823-0227, drop in from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday for breakfast or lunch; or visit her website at www.sweetmarieskauai.com.