Birch Tree Cafe branches out at Good Earth Market
Good Earth Market and Organic Farm in Millville has built up a reputation over the years for providing the community with healthy alternatives when it comes to local produce, natural goods and earth-friendly selections, but there’s something new in store — literally. The Birch Tree Café, located right inside the market, is an exclusively gluten-free restaurant, complete with an espresso bar and bake shop, providing diners with a warm environment or a bite on the go, while offering a healthy alternative from the everyday routine.
“The word has definitely been spreading, and we are growing each day,” said Cathy Berzins, owner of the Birch Tree Café, which made its debut earlier this summer. Once inside Good Earth Market, a glance to the right reveals an area dedicated to the cafe, which offers everything from soups, salads, sandwiches and refrigerator and freezer displays to breads, desserts and a bevy of baked goods.
What is unique about the Birch Tree Café is the fact that everything on the menu is free from gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and malts. Many individuals adhere to a gluten-free diet for a healthier, cleansing alternative, but for others, including Berzins, her daughter Melissa and Coastal Point photographer Chris Clark, it’s not a matter of choice.
To date, a gluten-free diet is the only known medically accepted treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are required for staying healthy. That damage is caused by interaction with gluten.
“With the Birch Tree Café,” noted Berzins, “I wanted to offer a healthy lifestyle and food choice for people, as well as for those of us that require it. The food serves everyone, even those who are not celiac. The food is amazing, and the quality is unlike anything else.”
As a celiac in the food industry, Berzins knows a thing or two about gluten-free products.
By carrying nothing but gluten-free goods, and using only celiac-safe items, such as flour blends with whole grain, sorghum, teff flower, millet and brown rice, among others, Berzins and others can be worry-free when browsing the menu.
Through the years, Berzins has developed a positive outlook on the condition that affects herself, her family and many others.
“Living gluten-free has really become a passion of mine,” she explained. “Over time, I have expanded the products that we offer, and I’m broadening the entire gluten-free line. Almost everyone, when they first hear someone say, ‘gluten-free,’ they instantly think, ‘baked goods.’ Our breads have been flying out of the café, and people love our muffins and cupcakes, but there are so many other products and options that can be celiac-safe. Soups, gravy, sauces, pasta dishes, even the pizza that we serve — it’s all gluten-free.”
She also works closely with local resources and farmers, incorporating fresh local produce into dishes including the popular quiches and pies at the Birch Tree Café. While her knowledge of celiac-friendly goods is a necessity for her own lifestyle, Berzins admitted that others have greatly helped her develop the offerings on the menu at café.
Even Berzins’ son Tim, a nutritional-science major, helps with the menu.
Customers can enjoy organic fair-trade coffees topped with vegan-approved flavoring syrups at the café, or as they peruse the aisles at Good Earth Market. Berzins remains hard at work, constantly finding new recipes and new products to carry in the café, and has even been responding to requests to offer lactose-free and vegan options.
“That’s a big secondary benefit we have,” Berzins said. “We partner very well with all the lines of products at Good Earth Market, but the most important aspect of the café is the education about gluten-free products and individuals who are celiac. Over the years, I have heard so many stories about people, their friends and family members who are celiac, and they want to share with me what they have gone through.”
For many who are diagnosed as celiac, Berzins said, the key is not to see it as a limitation, but to embrace it as a particular lifestyle.
“Too often,” said Berzins, “people see it as a deprivation. You need to find out about your condition, but don’t look at it as, ‘What can’t I have?’ Instead, say, ‘What am I able to have?’ People are really surprised with all the things that are out there for them.”
The lineup at the Birch Tree Café has kept patrons coming back, constantly trying something new, but the aesthetics are intended to be just as welcoming.
“I had a small space to work with,” said Berzins, “but it’s efficient. I wanted to make sure the space was going to work when I first dreamt it up. My primary focus has always been to expand the public’s ideas of gluten-free products in a restaurant environment, and the café lets me do that.”
Berzins started from scratch but is proud to say she had her thumb in every detail, from the hand-crafted tables and espresso counter to the tranquil lighting and painting scheme. Even the Berzins family name, derived from the Latvian language, meaning “little birch,” is reflected in the new project.
“I’m very pleased with the way it all turned out,” she added. “I wanted to provide people with a nice ambiance and compliment what Good Earth Market has already established here in town.
“It definitely fills a need in the area,” she said. “We’re here for the community, and we have a lot more in store. It’s keeping me busy, but I love the idea of bringing more to the Birch Tree Café.”
Later this fall, Berzins plans to bring cooking demos, as well as lectures about celiac disease, available gluten-free products and even month-long meal plans.
“I want to keep things fresh and interesting for our customers,” she said. “I want to show people that, even being gluten-free, food can be fun and still taste amazing.”
For more information about the Birch Tree Café, stop by inside Good Earth Market along Route 26 in Millville, call (302) 539-2468, visit www.birchtreecafe.com online or find and like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Birch-Tree-Cafe/303046953049130. The Birch Tree Cafe’s hours coincide with Good Earth Market’s, open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sundays.