iPhone app helps gluten-free diners find food in Philly

     Publisher of Gluten Free Philly, Michael Savett (Photo courtesy of Gluten Free Philly)

    Publisher of Gluten Free Philly, Michael Savett (Photo courtesy of Gluten Free Philly)

    A new mobile application from a Philly-area blogger is changing the game for gluten-free eaters in the region. 

    More than 1,200 restaurants, bakeries, markets, and caterers are included in Gluten Free Philly’s new iOS app, which launched just before Thanksgiving.

    The app determiners a user’s location and then suggests nearby restaurants with gluten-free options. It works in the Philadelphia area as well as South Jersey and Delaware and has seen several hundred downloads in the first few weeks.

    As the number of  diners concerned about gluten continues to rise, so does awareness.

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    Enter Gluten Free Philly

    It wasn’t until recently that those suffering from this increasingly common protein allergy had many appealing options to choose from.

    “The options have vastly improved since when we first started,” said Michael Savett, publisher of Gluten Free Philly. “There’s a gluten free counterpart for almost everything you could want.”

    When Savett’s 12 year-old son was diagnosed with Celiac disease almost ten years ago, there was one brand for frozen pizza.

    “And the breads were just awful,” he said.

    In trying to accommodate his family’s changing dietary needs, Savett turned to the Internet, and in 2009 launched Gluten Free Philly.

    His mission is to create and maintain a comprehensive reference for gluten-free-friendly restaurants, bakeries, stores and events in the Delaware Valley.

    “It started with about two dozen places, mostly chains,” said Savett. “It grew, and grew, and grew from there.”

    Five years later his listings have gone mobile and are now available at the push of a button. The GFF website and iOS app (Android version will be out later this month) now boast a growing list of over 1,200 accommodating and dedicated gluten-free eateries and options.

    “What’s been encouraging from my standpoint are the independent restaurants,” said Savett. “That the chef owners are really embracing the gluten free options. It’s now at the point where a lot of restaurants are coming to me, to let me know that they have options. Which is the other way around from when I first started.”

    “Gluten-free” goes mainstream

    As Gluten Free Philly’s comprehensive listings graduate from blog to app, the culture around dietary restrictions is changing.

    No longer a dirty word in the restaurant business, gluten-free offerings are now par for the course.

    “What I’ve seen change the most is non-gluten free people’s response for the necessity for gluten free,” said Jen Kramer, manager at Sweet Freedom, the only exclusively gluten-free bakery in the city.

    Everything at Sweet Freedom is free from gluten, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, (with the exception of coconuts) and refined sugar. Kramer is certified in holistic nutrition, in addition to formal culinary training, which has helped to carve out a very particular niche. The bakery has seen continued success over the past four years and just last month expand into a second location in Collingswood, New Jersey .

    “People aren’t looking at gluten-free as a fad,” said Kramer. “And for those who are just experimenting they realize they feel better too.”

    According to Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, Dr. Joseph Murray, gluten sensitivity now affects one in every one hundred people and is four times more common than it was 60 years ago. While the cause is unknown, Mayo advises a strict dietary regiment to help manage symptoms.

    Orders at will

    “Locally, Pasta Pomodoro in Voorhees, N.J. has always had a large gluten free menu,” said Savett. The Garces restaurants are very accommodating, the Starr restaurants as well, and even a lot of the restaurants along the 13th Street corridor.

    “I think of it as an important part of our approach to hospitality; being welcoming to everyone and trying to accommodate their needs,” said Jose Garces, who has emerged as a leader in the city’s food scene.

    “My team and I work hard to ensure that our staff is trained in every aspect of the food they serve, including which dishes are appropriate for guests with dietary restrictions, such as Celiac disease.

    “That way, we’re able to guide our guests to dishes they’ll enjoy and alleviate the stress that can often come with eating out for people on restricted diets.”

    It’s that very stress that Savett works to alleviate with Gluten Free Philly’s new app, offering options that will please everyone.

    “Its not just my son that they’re feeding,” said Savett. “They’re feeding my entire family.”

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