Gluten-Free Gourmet: A Mom Who Can’t Find Food for Her Celiac Sons Makes Her Own
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This post is part of a series of branded posts sponsored by Verizon. The focus of the series — part of a paid partnership between Verizon and CircleAround — is on women small business owners, and how they are navigating the complexities and challenges of contemporary business, from the pandemic to the economy.
What kid doesn’t like pizza? Gail Becker’s sons are fans, but couldn’t enjoy it. They both have celiac disease, which means their bodies cannot process gluten. Becker’s search for a pre-made alternative seemed fruitless. She couldn’t find alternatives that were both delicious and nutritious.
“My sons were diagnosed with celiac at such a young age that there wasn’t even gluten-free food in the store,” Becker tells CircleAround. “So everything that they ever needed or wanted, I would have to make from scratch. Like, if there was a cake for their birthday, I’d have to also make the frosting.”
Becker continues: “What I began to notice over the years was how much junk the food industry was putting in gluten-free foods. More fat, sugar, salt, and calories, and less nutrients.”
My sons were diagnosed with celiac at such a young age that there wasn’t even gluten-free food in the store.
Four years ago Becker looked up a recipe on the internet for cauliflower pizza crust. That experience, Becker explains — particularly making the veggie pizza base — was underwhelming. It tasted average, looked only “okay,” and it had taken a whole 90 minutes to make, time that the busy working mother just didn’t have.
This reality prompted Becker to launch Caulipower in 2017, a health-food company making kid-friendly, quick-to-prepare foods. Becker recalls that, at the time, she knew it was time for a change.
“Caulipower was definitely born out of that frustration of waiting for someone else to do it. Ultimately, I got tired of waiting,” says Becker. “I started the company because of my observations of the gluten-free industry.”
Becker was also tired and disillusioned working for corporate America. “I had been there many years,” says Becker of her job at a global marketing firm. “I had climbed my way up the proverbial ladder, and by the time I got to the top, realized I didn't like the view very much.”
Making the Jump
Even still, making the decision to launch her own food company filled Becker with trepidation. She had no experience in the food industry, but she knew in her heart of hearts it was a jump she needed to make.
“I was really nervous, and I was taking a huge risk,” says Becker. “That was really outweighed by — I have no better word for it — a calling. It was just something that I knew I had to do. Some higher power was driving me to take this risk.”
Becker, a first-generation American, credits her Jewish-German father, who had recently passed away, for giving her the courage to take a leap of faith. A Holocaust survivor who spent four years in Auschwitz, Becker's father, she says, taught her all she knows about resilience, perseverance, and hard work.
“He came here with nothing,” says Becker. “Less than nothing. No family, no money, no language. When you've had the worst that life could possibly offer you, what are you really afraid of? And that's what he instilled in me … fearlessness.”
He came here with nothing. When you've had the worst that life could possibly offer you, what are you really afraid of?
She continues: “I was fearless in knowing that [launching Caulipower] was something I needed to do. It took the passing of my father to really make me realize that. It made me realize the fragility of life.”
Becker’s father was also a business owner, which is how Becker first learned the principles of sound business. She fondly remembers helping out in her father’s shop when she was a young woman.
“I used to work the cash register for $20 a day, plus lunch, every day when I was growing up,” Becker recalls. “The fundamentals of business I learned while sitting on that stoop and working on that old cash register. It's lessons that I still draw upon today — just watching how he built relationships with his customers.”
Becker says that the COVID pandemic has provided a number of opportunities for Caulipower, for which she is grateful. Part of the business is to build teaching gardens in underserved parts of the country.
“They’re like laboratories for kids to plant vegetables and nurture them and watch them grow,” says Becker. “They learn the magic of vegetables and learn how to cook with them.”
During COVID, with kids being kept out of school during shelter in place, many were not getting fed nutritious food during the day and were missing out on the produce from the gardens. In recognizing this shortfall, Caulipower teamed up with the American Heart Association.
“Kids are going hungry because families really rely on these school meals,” says Becker. “So we pivoted in our work with the teaching gardens with the American Heart Association. We were able to give out 3,000 boxes of fresh produce that we bought from local farmers and four cities across the country.”
Becker noted that her desire to help others comes from stories her father would tell her throughout her life.
“When he was in the camps, the cold was horrible,” she says, “but he always said nothing was as bad as the hunger, so I think about that all the time.”
Becker feels optimistic as the year comes to a close and looks forward to new opportunities in 2021, despite the ongoing specter of the pandemic.
“I think one of the things COVID showed us is that anyone who did have a master plan had to throw it out of the window,” she says. “When you’re nimble enough and are used to working at warp speed, you really accommodate the world that we live in.”