Editor's note: This piece was originally published Dec. 11, 2018.
At first glance, Blooming Lotus Gourmet Bakery might look like a typical cafe on Milwaukee’s east side. But look closer and you’ll see that the ingredient list is far more specialized than many gourmet bakeries — free of grain, gluten, egg, dairy, cane sugar, oils, soy and yeast. That might sound like a recipe for a hockey puck, but Blooming Lotus sells everything from cupcakes to cookies, scones and more — and they look as good as they taste.
The bakery was the result of a lot of trial and error in the kitchen for proprietor Susan Goulet and her partner Lars Schloemer. Goulet was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in adulthood, joining many other members of her family who suffer from that autoimmune disease and severe food allergies.
"I wasn't diagnosed with Crohn's until I was in my late 30s. And so before that I got to do a lot of baking and cooking, which was a passion, with regular ingredients. But then after I was diagnosed, then I needed to change," she says.
Goulet experimented with recipes in her home kitchen and eventually shared them with others in her community. "People just kept saying, 'These are so good, you have to open a bakery,' " she recalls.
With the rise of heart disease, diabetes, food allergies, and Celiac and gluten sensitivity in the U.S., Goulet knew she had to open the bakery "because there's just a better alternative." She and Schloemer share a strong conviction that people can be more proactive about their health — even if they're living with a diagnosis.
"What I found was that when I changed my diet and I got off of the grains and I got off the dairy in particular, then I stopped having [Crohn's] symptoms and then was able to finally get off medication all together," says Goulet. "That coupled with a very strong yoga practice, I've been symptom and medicine-free for about 25 years."
Although Schloemer has no food allergies, he's been eating a healthy diet since the '70s and has been around baking all of his life. Schloemer's great-grandparents owned two bakeries in Germany and his parents owned two bakeries in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"Conventional baking — lots of sugar, lots of butter was always my forte. So, I changed up completely when Susan and I got together and adapted her style of baking," he notes. "It's just been wonderful ever since."
Almost daily, Schloemer and Goulet are at the bakery in the early morning and working around 12 hours a day. While running a bakery certainly isn't the easiest job, the partners enjoy the challenge and the rewards — especially when it comes to perfecting recipes.
"I think people have to enjoy the challenge because these ingredients don't work, they don't function the way that normal butter, normal cane sugar, normal wheat flour functions," notes Goulet.
Schloemer says that when it comes to baking with non-traditional baking ingredients, you need to pay close attention to how the ingredients work with one another.
"It sounds pretty simple, but [timing] is pretty critical with this kind of baking," he explains.
From mixing wet ingredients up to hours beforehand, to how finely an ingredient such as chia seed is ground are all meticulous details that can make or break a recipe, according to Schloemer. Quinoa and buckwheat flour are the backbone of most of Blooming Lotus' products. Its pantry is filled with unique ingredients like organic palm sugar, dates, nut butters, pepitas, maple syrup, coconut milk and more.
Schloemer says the consistency of ingredients "gives all those nutrients a chance to be taken in by the body." He also says that when baking in any setting, you can't be afraid to fail: "Trying again quite often is my resourcing and finding a better quality or different grind or different formulation of whatever I am using."
The ingredients not only make it safe for people with strict dietary needs to eat at the bakery, but also increases the nutritional value of their products. The average fiber content in Blooming Lotus' baked good is at least four times more than the average national wheat brand, grams of protein are typically doubled or even tripled, and calories are comprable to both wheat and gluten free brands, according to Goulet.
Outside of creating accessibility to a healthy alternative bakery, it was also important to Goulet and Schloemer to create a welcoming space where the food is safe and families can come in all together whether they need to follow a strict diet or not.
"For the first time, they can have anything in the case and they can be just like everyone else," says Goulet.
"I didn't want this to be some sort of consolation prize, that people could really come in and be excited about the food and not think, 'Well gee, it's gluten free, this isn't bad,' but that their family and friends can say, 'Hey, this really tastes terrific,' " she adds.