When you first walk into G.F. Joe’s Market, you see what looks like a normal mom and pop grocery store. Except as you walk the isles and browse the items lining the shelves, you realize one thing that, without exception, every single item has in common: it’s gluten-free.
Gluten-free cookies, pasta, and cereal as well as brownie mixes, spices, and soups stock the isles. And yes, even gluten-free beer. You name it, G.F. Joe’s has probably got it. The selection is so wide that the store offers about 2000 different gluten-free products. They even have fresh baked gluten-free bread every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
“Any bread product is a popular item,” Joe said when asked what his best sellers in the store were. “You can’t get a gluten-free loaf of bread walking into a normal bakery,” and it’s one of the items people miss when moving into a gluten-free diet.
But the list of items stocked in the store doesn’t stop at gluten-free. G.F Joe’s also carries dairy free, casein free, soy free, egg free, yeast free, corn free, potato free, peanut free, and tree nut free grocery items. Talk about an exhaustive list! But it’s all for the sake of serving families and individuals in the Thurston County community—and well beyond it!—who must have gluten or allergen-free diets.
People like the owner of G.F. Joe’s himself.
In 2006, Joe Spancic was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a condition where eating gluten, normally found in wheat, barley, and rye, would damage the lining of the small intestine. This damage prevents the body from absorbing the nutrients in food that it needs to survive. And for people living with Celiac Disease, there is no cure.
“There is no magic pill for him,” Kaylee, Joe’s wife and partner in crime at G.F. Joe’s, said when asked about her husband’s disease. There’s no medication or treatment available, aside from a very specific gluten-free diet that you have to adhere to. Which then posed a bit of a problem.
Most major grocery chains only carry a limited selection of gluten-free products. And you can only eat cereal, pasta, and cookies for so long. “When you’re on a gluten-free diet, the foods you have to eat are pretty specific and very hard to find,” Kaylee explained. “So you find yourself going to this store to this store to this store just to fill your pantry.”
Joe and Kaylee’s family had to go as far as Seattle and Vancouver, Oregon just to get their basic grocery needs fulfilled. Others who suffer from Celiac disease and other intolerance type of ailments have traveled even further.
“We wanted all of your gluten-free items in one location,” Kaylee said, after two years of careful shopping all across the Pacific Northwest with her husband. But it was more than just that. When asked about why he opened G.F. Joe’s three years ago, Joe said it was for the community.
“Because we were involved in a support group for gluten intolerance before we opened the store, we saw the need for something like this in our neighborhood,” Joe said. Some people are coming into the gluten-free diet world for the first time. Having a safe environment for them to learn about a gluten-free lifestyle from the people who live it daily was important.
Joe and Kaylee diligently sample and test all products that they decide to carry in their store. Because Joe lives with Celiac Disease, all of the items have to be safe for him to eat otherwise they won’t carry it. “It has to be gluten-free first before we stock it,” Joe said. And when hearing Joe talk about the items in his store, you can instantly tell how knowledgeable he was on the texture of each food item, the taste, how different it was from its normal counterpart and what his favorites were. “90% of the time, we sample products at home. So it’s not just me, but our kids and our family weighing in, so you get the whole picture. Like, if you ask me, ‘Pancake mix. Which is your favorite?’ Well this one’s mine, this one’s Kaylee’s, and this one’s our kids.”
They even have a G.F. Joe approved restaurant page on their website.
“That’s usually the biggest question. What local places here are safe to eat out in,” Joe said, and he and his wife would often go into local restaurants to see how they do with gluten-intolerant customers. When asked if this was a little bit dangerous to his health, considering he had Celiac Disease, he sort of laughed and said, “yes, it is. But I’ve been doing this for six years now, and I can usually read the menu and figure it out.”
While the list of eateries that accommodate special diets is plenty, the ones on G.F. Joe’s website are restaurants Joe had physically spoken to or worked with developing their gluten free menu. He says that the restaurants on that list are ones they personally know are doing everything they can for the allergen free community. “It’s really about keeping all of us safe,” Joe said.
The success and popularity of the store in the community has a large part to do with the fact that its owners live the same reality that most of G.F. Joe’s shoppers live with. “You know we have little kids that come in here, and when they see somebody else other than Joe standing behind the counter, they get a little sad-faced,” Kaylee said with a smile. “And so I tell him ‘Joe’s in the back! Go say hi.’ And they get the smiles again.
“Because he is part of this world and he lives it every day, people relate to him. They get that connection that’s important for our customers to know that somebody in here is also Celiac, and has to follow this diet,” Kaylee said when asked what makes G.F. Joe’s so special and dear to the allergen free community. “Joe is the heart and soul of G.F. Joe’s. And you know I don’t know if we’d be as successful if we were just a grocery store and gluten was just a product on the shelf to us.”
If you’re new to the gluten-free diet world, or have Celiac Disease, talking to Joe and Kaylee Spancic is the best place to start. Not only do they have the biggest gluten-free grocery store within 100 miles of Thurston County, but you’ll be welcomed with open arms into a loving and supportive community of inspiring and passionate people.
GF Joe’s Market
5739 Littlerock RD SW Suite 103
Tumwater, WA 98512