Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Gluten struggles led to G.F. Joe’s

Jim Szymanski The Olympian

Three years ago this month, Joe Spancic's doctor diagnosed him with celiac disease, an intestinal disorder triggered by ingesting the food component gluten, found in wheat, rye and barley.

Unpleasant symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating or skin disorders. Sometimes, people with the disease exhibit no gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic's Web site. Spancic found it time-consuming and expensive, sometimes traveling to Seattle or Portland, to find gluten-free products to avoid the disease's symptoms. Finally, he decided to start G.F. Joe's, a small Tumwater market that specializes in gluten-free products. Spancic and his wife, Kaylee, offer customers needing specialized diets about 1,300 gluten-free or wheat-free products in their store at 5739 Littlerock Road S.W. in the Tumwater Center. The store does not include a meat or produce department.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Spancic this week.
Question: When did you open and how has business been so far?
Answer: We opened April 12, and business has been fantastic. The community has just been outstanding.
Q: Before you opened the store, what did you find in the marketplace in terms of how well stores are responding to the illness by making products available?
A: Most of the mainstream stores have no clue as to what is really needed out there for the gluten and celiac community. Three years ago when I was first diagnosed, one store had a very limited selection and we have seen that grow. But the issue is that one week they'll have the product and then it will be gone. That's one of the reasons we opened the store. We had to go to so many stores just to find products to have a normal meal.
Q: What led to your diagnosis? Did you have symptoms that encouraged you to visit a doctor?
A: I've been suffering from multiple symptoms of celiac disease my entire life. My conditions ranged from intestinal to joint pains to headaches. I've been anemic my entire life, so my blood iron has been low. What led me to it was I was having chest pains and discomfort through my abdomen.
Q: What is the definition for celiac disease?
A: It's an autoimmune deficiency. It is hereditary, genetic. Most people who have it have family members who had it. It prevents your body from processing gluten found in wheat, rye and barley. It makes the insides of your small intestines completely smooth and can cause gas and bloating.
Q: Why did you say many doctors recommend a "meat and potatoes" only diet if you're diagnosed with celiac disease?
A: Most meats are natural so there's no wheat, rye or barley in them. And potatoes are a root so they are not in that family.
Q: How did you come up with the name of the store?
A: Our twin sons came up with it. Anything we had that was gluten free was G.F. and then it became, that's G.F. Joe. My family has been the driving force behind doing this store.
Q: Because you're a specialty store, are your products more expensive than similar items elsewhere?
A: Yes. Some things in the store are the same as normal products, but others are going to be higher. A lot of it has to do with carrying the organic label.
Q: Are there other illnesses that a gluten-free diet could help?
A: Absolutely. Besides celiac disease, there are wheat allergies.

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