AURORA, Colo. — Having been diagnosed with celiac spru disease a few years ago, Dan Adema sums up his diet in simple terms: "I can't eat anything that tastes good."
If it has gluten, it's a no-go. That means no pizza, no cake, no cookies. Foods that make the average eater's mouth water simply make Adema sick.
That's why a few years ago, when the smell of his wife's freshly fried chicken — made to her grandpa's old southern recipe — wafted his way, Adema was torn. A few bites of that fried chicken and all its gluten-filled goodness, and he'd be hurting.
But the smell was too much to take.
"I said, 'I know it's gonna be bad if I eat it, but I can't take it, I got to eat some,'" he said.
That moment of weakness in the face of good fried chicken — as well as lab tests that later showed grandpa's recipe was gluten free — sparked Grandpa's Gluten-Free Gourmet. Adema and his wife, Angi, launched the company from their Aurora home last spring.
The company's gluten-free chicken encrusting is now available at several Vitamin Cottage locations around the state, as well as a handful of specialty shops.
In the coming weeks, the Ademas plan to add spicy, Italian and dairy-free options to their mix, which at the moment includes just garlic Parmesan.
For Angi Adema, the company is a way to honor her late grandpa, Larry J. Malone.
"Grandpa Malone" was from Tennessee, and like a lot of cooks in the South, he knew what he was doing when it came to fried food.
His recipe for fried chicken was a staple on the family menu growing up, Angi said, but grandpa probably never imagined his recipe would be commercially successful.
"I think he would be kind of shocked to know that we shared it with everyone," she said.
But, launching a company from the ground up has been a challenge, and one filled with long nights and busy weekends.
Both Dan and Angi work regular, 9-to-5 jobs — Angi at an IT company, Dan in construction and web design — so getting the company started meant working farmer's markets all over town.
During one stretch last summer, the couple worked 160 days straight without a day off — slinging their mix at area markets, spending hours in a rented commercial kitchen preparing huge batches of the mix and packaging it for sale. The recipe's popularity made all that work necessary.
"People really enjoy it, and that's the answer we needed before we could move forward," Angi said.
The business has also been a way for the Ademas to connect with other celiacs and help them out.
Dan knows well how frustrating it can be to go to a restaurant and not be able to order anything on the menu. Or to have to eat a separate meal from the rest of the family. So being able to see other people with the same disease be able to eat fried chicken for the first time in years has been rewarding.
"From a celiac's perspective, we are really trying to make a product that really brings social acceptance," he said.
And, it doesn't hurt that Grandpa's recipe tastes good, so celiacs and non-celiacs alike can eat it together, Angi said.
"The stuff tastes like normal food, so people who (can eat gluten) are going to enjoy (eating) it too," she said. That's important for families who often have to cook two meals, one with gluten, one without, she said. "You'll have at least one meal people can make where they don't have to make two separate meals," she said.