The City of Falls Church now houses the sole storefront for the award-winning gluten-free bakery, The Happy Tart, after the shop closed the doors of its Alexandria location in January. Proprietor Emma Cech’s decision to consolidate the bakery’s physical presence is part of a broader plan to reach her customer base through the mail.
The Happy Tart estimates implementing this plan will probably take half a year.
“The reason that we decided to do this is that we have a lot [of people] who don’t live in this area and ask if we can deliver products to them,” said Cech. ”They are tourists and they stop by and ask if we can do a Happy Tart where they live”
Cech, who has a degree in food science, wanted to close down the shop in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood to focus on the research and product development on running a shipping business. At the moment she’s researching packaging options to maximize the shelf life of her products without adding any preservatives and without requiring additional refrigeration.
Cech will be spending months experimenting with modified atmosphere packaging and different packaging materials.
Few restaurateurs have lived as many lives before baking as Cech. A 1993 graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree of food science, she then obtained a second degree in immunology, worked a stint at the patent and trademark office, had children and lived in South America for a dozen years with her husband who worked with the U.S. State Department. She eventually came back to the states and studied in culinary school in Gaithersburg.
“I always used my food science [experience]. Before we even opened the Happy Tart, I spent two years doing nothing but developing recipes,” said Cech.
Cech wears many hats including owner, head chef and manager
“The interesting thing about Emma is she knows literally everything about how this place works so it seems like she runs everything, because you can come to her with everything,” said store employee Aemon Sugarman
In designing the menu, Cech was motivated by an affliction of celiac disease that is also shared by one of her daughters. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage in the intestines upon the consumption of the gluten protein (found largely in bread).
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and at risk of long-term complications.
“It’s been diagnosed for a long time,” explained Cech. “I have customers who have been diagnosed for 50 years, but it’s been diagnosed more recently and more conscious in culture.”
The community that has formed around the culture of gluten-free and other specialized diets has allowed Cech to thrive in a much-needed niche market. Delight Magazine, a bi-monthly international food and lifestyle publication for people living with food allergies and sensitivities, has ranked The Happy Tart as one of the top 20 gluten-free bakeries in the country nationwide. USA Today also has it ranked in its top ten.
Christy Vogel discovered the restaurant from the website findmeglutenfree.com and originally took her mother Donna Johnson here for Mother’s Day. The two gluten-free dieters, who travel all the way from Chantilly, are now returning customers.
“This is a special treat because you don’t have to worry about the food,” said Johnson. “There’s becoming more gluten-free places but there aren’t as many that are as committed. You go to a lot of places that sell gluten-free goods but they can’t guarantee it because of cross-contamination.”
When the Happy Tart made a Facebook post thanking their loyal patrons, many were elated to what Cech was going to be devoting her time to instead.
“So excited to hear you will be shipping! I haven’t found another gf bakery that’s as good as your items,” wrote one fan.
Another user wrote, “I’m sad for your store but this makes me day!! We had to move farther out of the city, so getting to your locations is not as easy anymore. Love that you will be on amazon!!!”
Besides their baked goods, the Happy Tart includes a menu including several varieties of crepes, quiches, omelets and more in a fast casual setting. They also boast 12 types of cider. Cech is always experimenting with the menu in hopes of maintaining quality.
“I have to tell you the first couples time I came here, I didn’t know it was gluten-free, I just came because it was convenient. I’m here now because it’s just delicious” said patron Michelle Maynard.
The Happy Tart will be selling its products through its own website, Amazon and Etsy at a date to be determined later in the year. An announcement will be made through The Happy Tart’s website and on social media in the near future to specify when that service will launch.
The Happy Tart is located at 410 S. Maple St. #110, Falls Church.