THE G-FREE SPOT
Nicole Gardner struggled her entire life with migraines, eczema and other medical issues. When her daughter began experiencing similar symptoms at age 4, the Hilton Head Island woman decided they would both go on an elimination diet, cutting foods that could trigger reactions and slowly reintroducing them one at a time.
As Gardner and her daughter, Hailey, began adding foods back into their diet, it was clear that gluten was the problem. Their doctor confirmed that neither has celiac disease, but that both are gluten intolerant.
“We tend to take a holistic, simplistic approach to things,” Gardner said. “I’d rather not add medication when I could simply eliminate the toxin.”
Gardner said it was not terribly difficult moving to a gluten-free lifestyle, but it was an adjustment. She began cooking gluten-free meals for the entire family, but struggled to find a gluten-free alternative for the delicious baked goods her family enjoys.
So she decided to make them herself.
With college degrees in chemistry and economics, Gardner was in her element, experimenting with different ingredients in her quest for treats that were good for both the palate and the wallet.
Eventually, she decided to open a gluten-free bakery and The G-Free Spot was born, first as an online store in 2017. A storefront at Coligny Plaza followed in January.
“It felt like the right mix,” Gardner said. “There was a need, and there was no supply. And we were keenly aware of it as we were living the lifestyle.”
Her favorite treats are the shop’s cheesecake and carrot cake — or, even better, a combination of both.
Each of Gardner’s three children has his or her own specialty at the bakery. Sixteen-year-old Ean likes to bake breads, 14-year-old Conner enjoys making doughnuts, and 11-year-old Hailey is “the pie crust queen,” according to her mother.
Gardner credits her staff with the bakery’s success.
“They take an incredible amount of ownership in what’s in the cases,” she said. “What do (the items) look like? What do they taste like? I’m definitely blessed to be surrounded by awesome people.”
The G-Free Spot doesn’t only cater to those on a gluten-free diet, however. Gardner uses dedicated nut-free equipment for customers who have nut allergies, and is very strict about preventing any cross-contamination.
“We get so many folks in here — it’s really touching — who are emotional because there are very few places they can go and feel confident that there’s not a risk of cross-contamination,” Gardner said. “So we share as many hugs and tears as we do baked goods. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
Then there are the people who frequent The G-Free Spot just because they love the taste of the products.
Gardner said a man ordered a carrot cake for his wife’s birthday last year. It was her favorite type of cake, and she hadn’t had it in more than 13 years because of her gluten intolerance. The husband liked the cake so much that he ordered one for his birthday, too — and he isn’t even on a gluten-free diet. The couple ordered another for their most recent birthday celebration.
Gardner is hoping to expand her business into Bluffton and eventually franchise the company; The G-Free Spot already offers shipping throughout the United States. For more information, go to www.thegfreespot.com.