Beth Gherlein and David Tyson began their journey as Missoula food entrepreneurs at the Clark Fork Farmers Market in 2012, selling vegan, gluten-free doughnuts and building up a loyal customer base.
Now, as they approach the decade mark in business, they’ve finally secured their first brick-and-mortar retail location. The couple plans to open Tandem Bakery at 1221 Helen Ave. in the University district sometime in early 2022 after a remodel of the interior.
“We’ve been looking for a retail space in Missoula for years,” Gherlein said. “It’s been this whole long process to get here, but it’s pretty exciting. We want to make it a community spot again.”
If the address sounds familiar, it’s because it was the site of the famous Buttercup Market and Café for many years. Most recently it was Nonna’s Neighborhood Eatery, but that business didn’t make it through the pandemic. Gherlein and Tyson signed a lease a couple weeks ago.
Everything they make is both vegan and gluten-free, meaning they use a lot of white rice, brown rice, tapioca starch, millet, sorghum and oils. They use only plant-based ingredients, and they prioritize local and seasonal ingredients, including fresh fruits and produce from Montana farmers. Most recently, they’ve been just a wholesale business with a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen — they supply breads to places like the Good Food Store. Their products can also be found in Idaho, Wyoming and other towns in Montana.
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They’ll sell their specialty cakes, event cakes, pies, doughnuts and pastries at their new location. They’ll also have an espresso bar and a small menu of breakfast and lunch items. Once a week, they might do a special brunch menu.
“We do some sandwiches and some hot foods at the farmers market, so we’re kind of just expanding on that,” Gherlein said. “We think of our stuff as low-key accessible comfort food for people who maybe couldn’t otherwise eat out at restaurants because of dietary restrictions.”
Many of their customers have food allergies, and they take their safety very seriously. They blend all their own flour and use 15 different types of grains.
One of the things that sets Tandem Bakery apart is the fact that everything is both gluten-free and vegan, Tyson said. Many people who need that combination have a very tough time finding anything at restaurants.
“Initially when we started we had a surprising number of friends who fit those categories,” Tyson said. “We just really wanted to be able to invite them all. And in the beginning, it was great to have the feeling of being able to accommodate everybody. And it also made sense with the business model because it was a burgeoning market.”
They’ve partnered with a Missoula company called Plant Perks to make Flathead cherry or blueberry “cheesecake” using a vegan fermented-cashew product called Cheeze.
“That’s one of the things I’m really excited to be developing this year,” Tyson said. “It’s just worked out really well.”
They’ve also started distributing mini sweet potato pies through a food delivery service called True Food Missoula.
The name Tandem Bakery was inspired by the tandem bicycle they used to ride around in Chicago together, but it also refers to working as a couple and the duality of being both vegan and gluten-free.
They've received great customer feedback over the years because people are desperate to find something that fits their diet that’s made by professionals, Tyson said.
“I’ve seen people cry at the farmers market,” he recalled.
Gherlein said that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
“So it feels like we’re genuinely helping people,” she said. “They get excited about what they get because it’s beautiful, but it’s also like ‘I haven’t had this thing in forever’ or ‘I haven’t had doughnuts in 20 years’ or ‘my kid has never had this thing.' And that’s amazing.”