Laura’s Fudge introduces gluten-free product line

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Submitted Laura’s Fudge employee Melissa Chew holds up some of the gluten-free products at the new 932 Boardwalk store. Submitted Laura’s Fudge employee Melissa Chew holds up some of the gluten-free products at the new 932 Boardwalk store. OCEAN CITY — Gluten-free is the new buzz word when it comes to celebrity diets, but for some, gluten-free is not a fad, it’s a medical issue.

At Laura’s Fudge in Ocean City, co-owners Katie Ball and John Ball understand the difference. For those with celiac disease, gluten-free is a necessary way of life. To help affected locals and vacationers, the brother-sister duo has introduced a new line of gluten-free goodies.

“We wanted to be able to provide something that people who have to avoid gluten could eat,” Katie Ball said. “We would have people come in and ask if we had gluten-free and we’d have to say no. You’re not just turning down that one person, you’re turning down a whole family.  

“The demand was increasing and we saw that as a growing concern,” Ball said. “If you think about it, there’s not a whole lot to choose from on the boardwalk.

“We hated turning them away, and disappointing them.”

Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.

Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive the brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment.

No treatment can cure celiac disease. The disease can be effectively managed by dietary changes – but it’s not easy.

Laura’s, with locations at 932 Boardwalk, Asbury Avenue and 34th Street, offers cookies, caramel corn, chocolate and chocolate bars, gummy candies, rock bars, chocolate covered pretzels and other delicious gluten-free goodies.

“Every week we’re trying a new supplier,” Ball said. “We keep trying different products and we’re hoping people will come in and try them and let us know what they think.”

Ball said the gluten-free social network helps spread the word; people are coming in because they heard from someone else seeking out gluten-free.

“People come in so excited, and so appreciative,” Ball said. “Most places don’t carry these products, so people get really excited.”

While the Ball siblings, assisted by a crew of helpers, make most of the candy and fudge in the back of the Asbury Avenue store, the gluten-free products are made in a sterile location and shipped to the store.

“A lot of people don’t understand cross-contamination, you can’t share utensils, you can’t make both products in the same preparation area,” she said. “So we bring them in, pre-packaged from a couple of different sources. Everything is made in a facility that is completely gluten-free.”

The products are not just gluten-free, they nut-free and dairy-free, too.

“Two years ago, I found out that I had an allergy to nuts, so I know what this is like for people,” Ball said. “I have to be very careful. Just about every pre-packaged item you see has a warning about nut allergies, it’s very difficult to find things that I can eat.”

Laura’s Fudge is a chain that’s been around since the 1950s, Ball said. As Ball and her brother neared graduation from York College, they decided they wanted to go into business together. The opportunity to purchase the Ocean City franchise came along in 2005 and they opened for what they thought would be a summer business partnership.

“Our dad is a real estate agent and he saw the listing come up,” she said. “He thought it might be something we’d be interested in. It was perfect timing, everything just fell into place.

“We loved the idea, we both grew up here, loved working on the boardwalk, so we thought a fudge shop would be great,” she said. “We jumped on it. We opened on the boardwalk and then at 34th Street. We worked through that last year of college.”

A few years ago, they opened the Asbury Avenue shop in the 900 block and went for a more year-round presence.

This year, they are now open in a newly-renovated shop at 932 Boardwalk.

“We were in the 1100 block, and we thought this location, between Del’s and Ocean City Coffee Company would be better, so we jumped again,” she said. “It has a nice, clean look; it was a really good move for us.”

John and Katie arrive before 8 a.m. to start their day, which often stretches past midnight in the summer, seven days a week. Ball said she and her brother “get along very well.”

“We have to, we spend every day together,” she said. “We couldn’t do this if we didn’t.”

“We’re really excited about the summer. The weather has been nice and we’ve been busy.

“Providing the gluten-free products is another nice opportunity,” she said. “We’re really happy to be able to fill a void.”

Laura’s Fudge takes in-store or phone orders for all of the products they sell. For more information, call 609-399-0616.

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