In honor of National Celiac Awareness throughout the month of May, we interviewed Nicole Cogan, the founder of NOBREAD.Com, a recently launched website to give restaurant diners a convenient resource for finding gluten-free options when eating out in New York City.
According to statistics from Celiac Central, about 1 in 133 Americans, 1% of the population, has celiac’s disease. However, it is estimated that an additional 83% of Americans with celiac’s disease go undiagnosed or are mistreated for it. Currently, the only cure for celiac’s disease is maintaining a gluten-free diet.
Nicole learned she was gluten-free while she was in college, and it soon be came a passion of hers talking about it. She quit her job at J.P. Morgan as a sales analyst, and pursued her passion blogging and discovering restaurants with gluten-free options. Now, NOBREAD.Com has become her full-time job, and we got to talk to Nicole about her experience as someone who is gluten-free, as well as running her website.
At what point did you discover you were gluten-free?
Growing up, I was always sick. The flu once or twice a year, strep throat at least once a season, and several viruses that lasted for way more than the socially accepted “24 hours.” To top it off, I had bad eczema, seasonal allergies and asthma, and shooting stomach pains that came out of nowhere and occurred when I least expected. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I realized something was truly wrong. I spent my year in and out of hospitals and I was sicker than ever… and it wasn’t until I went gluten-free that all my problems seemed to go away!
Do you have any tips for diners about staying gluten-free when eating out at restaurants?
Always tell your server that you are gluten-free! Yes, do so even if you know that what you are ordering is gluten-free. Gluten manages to find its way into sauces and other ingredients, and even though the item you ordered should be naturally gluten-free, it may be cooked in a shared fryer or stove top, and therefore subject to cross contamination. Also, I always recommend finding out before hand whether or not the restaurant serves gluten-free bread or pasta, and what a few of the the restaurant’s favorite GF items are so you can have a stress-free dining experience. This is where NOBREAD comes in handy!
Do you feel as though being gluten-free has hindered you at all?
Initially, yes! I was forced to miss social events and couldn’t partake in the festivities my friends were partaking in because I was so sick. I also avoided going to parties because I never knew what I could eat or drink, and I was nervous that if I ate the wrong thing I would get sick. Nowadays, however, the gluten-free industry is booming and gluten awareness is incredibly strong so I don’t feel awkward having to mention that I’m gluten-free, and I trust that when I mention I am gluten-free, people know what gluten is and how to cater to the diet.
How did you come to the decision to quit your job and go full time with your passion project?
The more time I invested in NOBREAD, the more emotionally invested I became, too. Going into restaurants and learning about their gluten-free options made me happy. I was healthy, my website made me happy, and I wanted others who were suffering to experience the same good health and happiness I was FINALLY experiencing. Leaving J.P. Morgan was a HUGE risk, but I ultimately knew I had to do what was going to make me happiest.
What do you see as the future for NOBREAD?
NOBREAD every city! How to eat gluten-free at restaurants pertains to all cities… throughout the world! Whether someone is gluten-free for health reasons or as a personal lifestyle change, “going gluten-free” is here to stay. Restaurants in every city are going to have to become more gluten-friendly over time, and NOBREAD will be a vehicle to help them do so. The NOBREAD life pertains to more than just eating gluten-free at a restaurant, so keep following as we expand into beverages, products, travel, and more!
Do you think you’d ever start your own bakery or food service to help others with a gluten allergy?
I love everything about restaurants. Simply walking into one makes me so happy! Now that I spend a ton of time speaking with chefs and restaurateurs, I see first hand how difficult and intense it is to open a restaurant, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who does! As for opening my own, definitely not right now… but I’ll never say never. I love being able to influence and work with hundreds of restaurants at a time, and for now I want to focus on spreading NOBREAD’s influence.
How receptive have you found restaurants and chefs to learning about your project?
How receptive chefs and restaurants have been to my concept has been amazing! The restaurant community realizes the importance of catering to all diners, especially as the number of gluten-free diners in their restaurants has increased drastically over the last few years. There is nothing I love more than when I am sitting with a chef or manager, and they tell me that my visit has encouraged them to re-train their employees on the severity of gluten allergies and to reevaluate their menus to make them more gluten-friendly.
-by: Jackie Hart