By: Jen Russon
Big Mike’s Bakery has opened a new location which will serve his current customers who love his gluten-free delicacies.
Some 3.1 million Americans are living the gluten-free lifestyle, and while most of them do not have celiac disease, they find health benefits in taking a pass on the bread basket — unless of course, it’s gluten-free.
His newest location, located in Coral Springs inside of Tunies health food store, isn’t far from the old shop, on the corner of Wiles and Coral Ridge Drive, next to a gas station. Owner Mike Biagini’s newest location will serve breakfast, a full lunch menu, cold press juices and smoothies, sugar-free items; in addition to take away dinner items, like vegan soups and sandwiches.
Biagini and his bakery staff make pastries from scratch. The soups and chowders are by Saucy Q’s Organics.
“I outgrew my old location. Over 75 percent of my customer base were Tunie’s shoppers, so it seemed like the perfect fit,” said Biagini, who lives in Parkland.
A Heron Bay resident in Parkland, Biagini said he has always been a frequent visitor to The Shoppes at Heron Lakes, where Tunie’s is located. He added it’s super convenient that he now works there, too.
He added that his medical history makes him a loyal customer. After the 59-year-old baker was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010, a serious autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is consumed, the smallest bite of gluten, even something that has been cross-contaminated, will leave him sick and writhing in pain on the floor.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, which, the baker said are in all the delicious foods he grew up making with his grandparents in the Carolinas. His Cherokee and Italian heritage ensured that he ate a lot of sweet breaded things, and he was going to miss them.
Biagini, who had a career in the NFL, was not a professional cook at the time of diagnosis. Injured playing football, he sold Harley Davidsons and cars when he learned he had celiac.
Not being able to eat chocolate sweets anymore seemed like a fate worse than death.
“I wasn’t ready to give up yet,” said Biagini, who remembers his doctor trying to cheer him up by urging him to try a gluten-free chocolate cupcake from Trader Joe’s.
“It was good, but I knew I could make something better. The icing was too sweet, but the cake itself had possibilities. I’m the type of person who can eat anything and figure out what it’s made of. In two-and-a half years, I had my own gluten-free flour recipe,” said Biagini.
He said his culinary skills are 100 percent self-taught. He lived in the D.C. metro area when the idea of opening his own bakery began to take shape. He knew he was going to move to South Florida, and he focused his research on the few gluten-free bakeries the greater Ft. Lauderdale area had at the time. His first shop was a big hit among food reviewers and bloggers. They joked that one would not expect great pastry from a place overlooking a Chevron.
His company’s tag line, “Always gluten-free” is without exception. Biagini uses his patented recipe in everything he makes. He said it takes a special chef to render the flour into sweets his customers love, like one of his favorites: the double chocolate chip cookie.
He said that one, small mistake in the painstaking baking process could cost him plenty, and that he is grateful for his adept assistant, Emily, who began working for him only a few months ago. She is also gluten-intolerant and was shopping for a special birthday cake when she met Hopkins.
“He made the best red velvet cake I ever had,” said Emily, who quit her job as a chef in Miami to work for Big Mike’s.
She and Biagini agree that their red velvet cake is dangerous.
“People out of state order it for their weddings and fly home with it,” he said proudly.
Other sweet offerings at the bakery are flavors like Madagascar vanilla, pineapple upside down cake, an Almond Joy and coconut concoction, and banana bread with cream cheese inside.
His storefront is so new, it lacks signage, but Biagini is happy to take customers on a tour of his breads and pastries beckoning from the display case. Over the course of the day, he assures several people who tell him they are diabetic that he has many sugar-free items to choose from.
When they ask how he makes it sweet, he tells them he uses monk fruit.
It must be good, or Big Mike’s Bakery would not have picked up South Florida’s best bakery award in 2016.
Customers can look forward to a grand opening in January. Big Mike’s Bakery inside of Tunies is located at 5651 Coral Ridge Drive. The store is open Monday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Menu items can be found here.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.