You wouldn’t know from the taste, or even the marketing, that Steiner’s Coffee Cake of New York is made from gluten-free flour.
And yet – and this is key for those with celiac who cannot eat wheat – when it comes to baked goods, Steiner’s products is competing with the top brands.
The company, which officially opened its doors in 2016, began with a simple yet challenging premise: The recipes would be true to Malcolm Steiner’s original formula, and the flour would be gluten-free. Also the product would be eco-friendly.
Steiner had given his coffee cake recipe to his daughter-in-law Nanci Steiner, who copes with celiac. But before the family could bring any items to market, Nanci insisted on perfecting the flour.
“She was testing flour in 2010 when the market opened up for gluten-free foods,” said Jennifer Steiner Pool, Nanci Steiner’s daughter and the company’s president.
She tried for years “but she said it was not good enough and wouldn’t serve it for Thanksgiving,” Pool said “She kept at it.”
Once Steiner came up with the right mix for the flour, there was another challenge: She hadn’t written down the proportions and she had switched up several phases at once. It was back to the drawing board so the recipe could be replicated.
Steiner’s formula was nut-free and rice-based, and also includes potato starch and cornstarch and xanthan gum.
“Not all cornstarch is the same,” Pool said. “There was a lot of experimenting.”
But “in May 2016, she nailed it,” Pool said.
Pool left her job as a marketing executive, and her brother Jeffrey Steiner, an attorney in New York and the company’s vice president, provided expertise on legal and financial matters.
Pool’s first step was finding a blender.
“Blending flour is a dangerous process – if you inhale it, you can get sick,” she noted.
They found the right blender in Colorado, which Pool said marked a “key turning point.”
Next came certifications. The company went through the process to be certified gluten-free, kosher and non-GMO. In addition, the company went through the process of becoming a certified woman-owned business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
That October, the company sold its first cake on Amazon, and business began to move forward.
But in January Pool got nervous.
“I pulled back a little,” she said. “I thought, ‘this is really quick.’ I needed to lock down more details. You have once chance to get it right.”
So she took more time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, making sure she met all the labeling and universal produce code requirements. Amazon calls for certain stock-keeping unit requirements, so Pool made sure all the paperwork was in order.
The company had locked down branding and registered the business in 2010, back when the founders first decided on the concept. However, before marketing to the public, the founders added another element – sprinkles – to its logo.
The company’s first retail account, Grassroots, had a kitchen commissary in Glen Cove, where Pool said she and an assistant do all the baking for Steiner’s.
The company has expanded its line to include not just flour and coffee cake but also chocolate fudge brownies, banana bread, berry scones and ginger snaps. And Steiner is working on a mocha espresso biscotti.
In addition to baking, Pool does all the marketing and sales.
“Our whole concept is wholesale,” she said. “Our job is to go find the people.”
And her secret weapons are the baked goods themselves.
“Whether you think I’m charming or not, the coffee cake does the work,” Pool said.
She never says it’s gluten free initially so that would-be customers have no preconceived notion of what to expect when they sample the product.
The company delivers the items frozen, so clients can sell them at their own pace, which cuts down waste. Pool said the products, which are frozen immediately, stay good for two years.
The company has clients across the country, including Oregon, Florida, Washington and South Carolina. And there is a baker in Kentucky who buys the flour.
Pool said the company joined the Long Island Food Council, where she has found wisdom and expertise from people who face the same challenges and solve problems together.
In September, Steiner’s took the first prize at the FoodBizLI 2018 “Shark Tank” competition, which was held at Crest Hollow Country Club and hosted by Long Island Business News. The company was recognized for its business plan and growth strategies.
“My dream for the two next years is for Steiner’s Coffee Cake to be a household name,” Pool said. “I want my mom to really know that she did something extraordinary.”