Tucked away in Murrysville's Rosa Court shopping center is the Gluten Free Zone, a one-stop shop for anyone who has Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Gluten-free cereals, pastas, sauces, crackers, baking mixes, chips, beverages, desserts and frozen meals line the shelves of the new specialty shop. Also available are fresh, homemade bakery items, pizzas, grab-and go sandwiches and soups.
The woman behind all this is Melanie Mills, a Plum resident. Mills opened the store in May, about 3 1/2 years after her daughter, Ali, 28, was diagnosed with Celiac disease.
Celiac disease affects about 1 in 133 people. Eating foods containing gluten when you have Celiac can cause severe, digestive issues, cancer, as well as stunted growth and development in children.
There are more than 300 different traits of gluten related disorders including gastrointestinal, neurological and infertility problems, according to Jeff Weiner of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Western Pennsylvania.
The Mills family realized what a challenge it was for their daughter to eat foods that wouldn't affect her poorly.
"You realize how hard it is to put a meal on the table," she said. "It's challenging because my daughter is a young professional who doesn't have a lot of time on her hands, so that complicates the diagnosis. When you're dealing with a Gluten issue it's hard."
Mills said she and her family had to travel to different stores all over the region to get the items needed to make appropriate meals.
"We started talking about opening our own shop immediately, and at the end of 2010, we started to plan," Mills said. "When your child is diagnosed with a disease, your first thought is, 'What can I do?'"
Mills and her family began to sample different brands and food items to decide what would be offered at the store.
"We tried to pull what we thought were the best, tastiest gluten-free items," she said. "Believe me, there are things that don't taste good."
The store is a family affair. Most of the employees are family members, and others offer their baking talents to stock up the bakery on a daily basis. A cake decorator also works at the store to help with cakes for all occasions.
"Everyone in my family wanted to pitch in," Mills said. "All of these recipes are ones we have come up with or adapted."
Mills' overall goal is to make it easier for people who struggle with gluten sensitivity like her daughter.
"There's no doubt that there's a demand for this type of shop," she said. "We want to continue to provide better products and make food shopping as convenient as possible."
For more information
Gluten Free Zone is located at Rosa Court, 4430 William Penn Highway in Murrysville. For more information, call 412-812-0623 or email info@YourGlutenFreeHealth.com. You can also visit the store's website at www.yourglutenfreehealth.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Gluten-Free-Zone.