If anything good has come out of the current pandemic, it’s our very basic new found appreciation and obsession with bread, the staff of life. As we locked down, yeast and flour flew off the shelves faster than toilet paper. As Angelenos pursue proper gut health to build immune systems, it comes as no surprise that Chloe Charlier’s popular gluten-free concept Breadblok brick-and-mortar location — which opened in February — has survived and thrived.
The homey little stand that originally opened in the Atwater Village Farmers Market in the summer of 2018 has been transformed by Commune Design into a comfortably sleek 1,000-square foot rectangular space on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Until the recent farmers markets restrictions, Breadblok had also been a fixture at the Manhattan Beach and Studio City markets, attracting customers from as far away as Santa Barbara to pick up popular items like buckwheat sour dough, chestnut bread, brioche donuts, vegan banana bread and organic coffee.
“I think one of the reasons we’re doing well is that people are looking for clean and organic meals to nourish and heal their guts,” Chalier, who is third generation gluten-free tells L.A. Weekly. “This is really the time right now that we need to be focusing on gut flora and building our immune systems. People are starting to do that now more than ever. We have a lot of clean grain-free recipes with simple and few ingredients. I take the time to handpick ingredients and research the suppliers of where they are coming from and which farms, making sure that it’s all organic and non-GMO, preferably kosher.”
The family tradition started in the Provence region of France with her grandfather, who had celiac disease. Chalier’s grandmother would travel far and wide to find rice flour to make her own bread and milk, long before gluten-free became a buzzword.
Celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder, affects at least three million Americans. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, “When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body.” If left undiagnosed or untreated, people with the disease may develop other disorders, including osteoporosis, infertility and possibly even cancer.
“Many of my various family members have different allergies, so we all follow our own dietary plans,” says the diminutive Chalier. “We’d test out vegan and sugar-free recipes on each other, just to have something for everyone. When I came to L.A. I noticed everyone here was the same way — everybody has a different lifestyle they follow. I saw the need for good, clean, organic, gluten-free baked goods and dishes.”
Having outgrown their little 300-square-foot commissary kitchen in downtown L.A., the Breadblok team has moved into a larger facility in Hawthorne and is taking this time in May, which is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, to expand a tart line with mini tartlets, eclairs and cream puffs. No refined sugars, gums or soy are used in any of the products. The shop also offers sandwiches and tartines to go on a wide selection of crusty breads as well as breakfast options and salads. Produce comes from Harry’s Berries and J.R. Organics and the chestnut flour from France.
“California has the same kind of health conscious mentality as Provence and a very similar way of life,” says Chalier. “They are really into their farmers markets and picking produce from nearby farms. Organic focus and simplicity is key. Everyone in L.A. has their own dietary lifestyle that they follow. In most restaurants, when you go in, you might not want to ask what all the ingredients are to see if they fit into your diet. Our customers come in knowing that they can feel comfortable sharing their allergies and what they are avoiding. It’s one of the first questions we ask — is there something you are looking to avoid? Generally people are looking to avoid refined oils and sugars, just plain and simple as possible.”
And simplicity is how Chalier explains our renewed passion for creating the staff of life as a therapeutic experience during a time of turmoil.
“Bread is an ancient staple. It’s a comfort food and baking bread at home is such a pleasurable experience.
“For me making bread is an accomplishment. Gluten-free bread is especially finicky and when it turns out beautifully each time it’s such an accomplishment. It’s definitely therapeutic to feel proud when one little loaf of bread comes out of the oven.”