I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. A life changing condition with a simple treatment regimen, don't eat gluten. I won't bore you with the science, but for celiacs eating gluten can be deadly. I'm lucky in that my sensitivity is not as great as some people with a more severe version of the disease but there are deadly long term consequences if I am not diligent with my diet. I could not have chosen a better time to receive this diagnosis because gluten free food choices are more abundant today than ever. I even found gluten free matzah for Passover. I've gone to my favorite Italian restaurant and they have made gluten free pasta readily available. Most independent restaurants where I live are prepared to make adjustments for customers who have celiac and others who are choosing to go gluten free for health reasons.
On a recent visit to Blue Smoke I noticed many options on the menu were listed as gluten free and Bryant Park Grill lists a permanent menu item as a gluten free pasta. While I can certainly navigate my way around a menu to fit my health condition chain restaurants can be more of a challenge.
Breakfast is the toughest meal for me. Many staples of this meal are bread or grain based. Products from Kind are a godsend, but I would love to order pancakes out at a restaurant. This morning at IHOP I had to request an omelet be made without pancake batter--yes, they put pancake batter in their omelet --but I was pining for pancakes and could not have them. All this has me wondering which breakfast chain is going to be the first to offer gluten free options? Which fast food company?
I understand that it's not simply adding the items to the menu. Gluten free products can get cross contaminated with regular wheat based products easily. Not terrible for me, but potentially lethal for severe celiac sufferers. My local pizza restaurants cook gluten free pizza on a tin foil tray so as not to cross contaminate in the oven with regular wheat based products. For a sandwich or burger chain it might be easier. They keep the rolls in plastic bags and so long as they keep them separate there are no problems. Pancake houses would have a tougher time. They would either have to clean a griddle and change cooking utensils or dedicate a griddle and utensils for gluten free usage.
Why should they even consider offering gluten free options? Today about 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac but 97% of people with the condition or sensitivity have not been diagnosed, like me up until 6 months ago. That means up to one third of the US population have it. This is a market that early movers will have a major advantage in as testing becomes more prevalent. This is not a niche category. This is mainstream.
So, who wants to be first? Please be White Castle!