RACINE — Growing up with celiac disease, Dan Gallagher always asked his mom: “Do you have my bread?” He had to have a gluten-free option for bread no matter where they were eating.
Fast-forward to 2013 in Chicago. Gallagher opens MyBread Bakery — a gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and soy-free wholesale bakery — dedicated to providing an allergen-safe array of bread for anyone who struggles with dietary restrictions.
In 2016, Gallagher moved operations to 1841 Douglas Ave., adjacent to the original O&H Danish Bakery, after receiving a loan from Business Lending Partners, the business financing division of the Racine County Economic Development Corp.
Then, when the O&H at that location was relocated farther north into Caledonia, MyBread was able to acquire the building to expand its operations.
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Recently, Gallagher has made a bigger push to increase sales, with his products becoming more widely available across the country. In southeast Wisconsin alone, his products can be found at Woodman’s, Walmart, Fresh Thyme in Kenosha and O&H Danish Bakery.
Gallagher’s family has a history of celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to eating gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine, which over time can damage your small intestine’s lining and prevent it from absorbing certain nutrients.
There is no cure for celiac disease, but following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and provide intestinal healing for most people.
Many people who have celiac disease have not been diagnosed, but the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates about 2 million people in the United States have it.
Gallagher struggled with finding a gluten-free bread that didn’t crumble in his hands. It often would have a strange texture or was just downright unpleasant. So he took to developing his own recipes and baking gluten-free bread with his mom.
He took his knowledge of gluten-free baked goods and implemented them into new recipes for MyBread with the help of his mom, wife and other mentors from all over the world.
“Some of the first stuff we made was just terrible, right?” Gallagher joked. “And then you get better, and make it better and better.”
Rise of more options
In one instance while at a trade show, Gallagher got to see first-hand the impact having a great-tasting, allergen-safe bread can make. Parents would come to the MyBread booth and learn about how the baked goods are safe for kids with dietary restrictions.
“They would cry. They’d say, ‘We haven’t had bread like this,’ “ Gallagher said.
He recalled times where he wasn’t able to enjoy certain meals or celebrate in the same way his friends did on occasion when there was no gluten-free option available. His goal is to always provide that option.
“Eating is in all of us … missing out on that (gathering experience) really stunk,” Gallagher said. “The goal is, if you and I were going to go out to eat or have this (bread) at my house, you would enjoy it too.”
Growth in Racine
MyBread has six employees who can make up to 8,000 pieces of flatbread in a day. Gallagher said he has an interest in hiring more people when the right time comes; he is working to establish more partnerships with retailers.
During the pandemic, the company lost a portion of business with restaurants which had to close down either temporarily or permanently. But online sales skyrocketed due to more people staying home and needing to make gluten-free meals.
“The challenge there was thinking, ‘Alright, what’s changed?’ “ Gallagher said. “Our online sales were a savior.”
Supply chain shortages were an unexpected perk for MyBread as well. When more popular, common gluten-free bread options were out of stock, customers were given a chance to try out other companies.
“I think that could be good for small companies,” he said.
Gallagher said his goals for MyBread include someday having an individual retail space (the products can only be found at other stores) and inviting other budding bakers to utilize his space at Douglas Avenue. He wanted to thank RCEDC, Racine County and the City of Racine for welcoming his company to the area.