A Sweet Bite

Gluten Free By The Sea specilalizes in gluten-free baked goods

Adkin Storysized

A gluten-free diet is not what it used to be. At one time, those who had gluten intolerance had very few options for delicious ways to substitute what they could eat for what they could not eat.

Now, people with a gluten-free diet have countless tasty options available.

CATHY ADKIN opened Gluten Free By The Sea in 2016 and has been delighting her customers ever since.

“My decision to open a bakeshop was fueled by the desire to open a café/coffee shop dating back more than 20 years,” Adkin says. “My life’s journey brought me down many paths. A formal education in culinary arts and food service management plus experiences as a pastry chef, chef, manager, etc., have contributed to my current level of ability in the kitchen and working with food in general.

Thirteen years ago, Adkin began eating a wheat-free diet, simply because it made her feel better.

As time went on without wheat in her diet, this also meant there was little gluten being consumed.

“The desire to open my own place was put on hold for several years, and by the time I was ready to settle in and begin a shop, I had already been diagnosed with celiac,” she says.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by the consumption of a protein known as gluten which is commonly found in wheat products.

“In my search for fresh baked goods that were also gluten-free, I repeatedly found nothing available,” Adkin says. “I gave up the search and went back to my own kitchen to create that scone, or pound cake, or cookies. A pairing of my continued desire to own a shop with my passion for baking led me to open Gluten Free By The Sea.”

Cathy’s business began by selling at the Carolina Beach Farmer’s Market along with other markets through the years. What started small has quickly grown.

“We proudly sell our products to Tidal Creek Co-Op in Wilmington, Brown Dog Coffeehouse in Burgaw, and Surf City Coffee in Topsail,” Adkin says. “Panacea offers our vegan, gluten-free burger rolls on their menu as well.”

Gluten Free By The Sea also has a store at 311 Judges Road in Wilmington.

While gluten-free items were once somewhat dry and bland, today’s options bring customers back again and again. It was a labor of love for Adkin to find just the right balance of flavors.

“Development of recipes began with countless batches of trial and error,” Adkin says. “Some flours were too grainy, others too dry, some cost-prohibitive and many other commercially pre-blended flours did not match the desired tastes and textures. All those recipes and formulas I knew by heart would not work with just any bag of flour substitute. Learning to bake from a gluten-free approach was like going back to kindergarten, figuring out how to bake all over again. Thankfully, I knew from being a pastry chef what all the end products were ‘supposed to’ taste like, and I could continue the experiments until it finally worked properly.”

Customer favorites at Gluten Free By The Sea include lemon pound cake, peanut butter cookies, biscotti, and New York style cheesecake.


“To those newly diagnosed, following a gluten-free diet does not need to feel like a ‘sentence’ or punishment,” Cathy says. “Plenty of options exist that are healthy and satisfying – both in taste and texture.

Through the pandemic, Gluten Free By The Sea has taken all necessary precautions to keep customers safe. “We readily accommodate any customers who feel safer with curbside service,” Adkin says. “Pre-payment and hands-free payment options are accepted. With most of our business being wholesale and pre-order business, it is an infrequent happening that there is more than one family in the shop at a time.”

Adkin says that while it is a major adjustment, avoiding gluten is worth it at the end because people start feeling better.

“I would like others to know that people with a gluten sensitivity are not typically requesting gluten-free to be ‘trendy.’ As with many food-based reactions, symptoms will present themselves differently in each person,” she says.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements. 

Categories: Health