The gluten-free community continues to grow — whether by personal choice or medical condition. With that, options for gluten-free items are becoming more and more available, but the reputation “gluten free” has for taste still remains stale.
Roseburg based company, Inspiration Mixes, is starting to change that reputation as the gluten-free baking mix company flourishes not only locally, but nationwide. Their goal is to make gluten-free foods actually taste good. And it all started with a hearty helping of inspiration.
President of Inspiration Mixes, Debbie Caterson of Roseburg, can’t help but smile when she talks about her now 13-year-old grandson, Sean Butler. A table right inside the front door of Inspiration Mixes’ new kitchen and event space at the Village Station in downtown Roseburg proudly hosts her grandsons recently published children’s book, “Sean Gets Lost in the Jungle.”
“He told me, ‘Grandma, I need to sell a million books because I need a retirement,’” laughed Caterson. “I mean they said to me that he’d never talk and now you can’t shut him up. He’s a really great kid.”
Around 15 months old, Butler’s family began noticing drastic changes in his behavior. The family acted quickly and began a grueling process of doctor’s visits and personal research.
At 18 months old, Butler was diagnosed with regressive autism — a form of autism where children are born and begin developing typically, but then start to lose speech and social skills between 15 and 30 months of age. Before being able to see a specialist, Butler’s diet would have to be off gluten and casein.
Casein is the main protein present in milk and cheese, and used in processed foods and in adhesives, paints, and other industrial products. Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Gluten is responsible for the elastic texture of dough.
“We started reading labels and noticed it was in everything — shampoo, soy sauce, body wash, “ said Caterson. She said that after a couple of weeks restricting his diet, Butler’s behavior began to change. “We got to a point where Sean kept getting better and better, but the food in the market was terrible.”
Since Butler was only 2 years old, this made finding foods he would enjoy or that were comparable to his former favorites an even bigger challenge. “He was a little kid just eating potato chips and bananas because that was all he liked,” said Caterson. “Kids aren’t going to eat something that doesn’t taste good.”
Inspired to help her grandson improve his health and be able to enjoy food, Caterson started buying cookbooks, looking through family recipes and working with her sister, Cathy Kirkpatrick, to create tasty gluten-free options.
After a couple years experimenting, Caterson, who was in banking for 33 years, and Kirkpatrick, lost their jobs within a month of each other. “So, we thought ‘what the heck?’” and the two moved forward on establishing a baking mix business.
“People kept telling us to make a business, so in 2008 we started coming up with certain recipes to sell. We took favorite family recipes and turned them into gluten-free – dad’s pizza crust, sister’s cookie recipe, mom’s devils food cake recipe...” said Caterson.
In May 2009, Inspiration Mixes got its trademark, copyrighted recipes, and finalized their logo — a silhouette of Butler. The first store to start selling the baking mix was Sherm’s Thunderbird in Roseburg.
“People always ask us what our base is – we don’t have a base. Every single recipe stands on its own. If you have a base, it won’t taste like a gluten cake or gluten cookie,” said Caterson. “We figured out the magic.”
Shortly after the business started to gain speed, it came to a halt after Caterson and her sister were in a car accident. The sisters suffered from injuries — Kirkpatrick so much that she could no longer be an active part of the company. Only a year later, Caterson was hit by a car and had to go through extensive therapy.
After that, Caterson decided to go to the Small Business Development Center and get some help. “We were doing well — but I was told to pull the business back so I could begin to manage it myself,” said Caterson.
Then during a demo Caterson was giving at the Ray’s store in Green, Loggers Pizza owner Sam Gross and his wife took a sample hesitantly, Caterson said, “because gluten-free was bad.” She said they immediately came back to her booth and asked how they could get the crust at their pizza restaurant.
Butler is also a huge fan of the pizza crust. “It’s his favorite,” said Caterson.
In 2014, Inspiration Mixes was available as the gluten-free option at Loggers Pizza. Caterson said she remembers hearing that a family walked a recently purchased pizza back to the Loggers kitchen and was upset that they didn’t receive their gluten-free crust.
“They were shocked. People will come up and ask me all the time, ‘Are you sure this is gluten-free?’ My stuff is amazing,” said Caterson.
From there, demand continued to increase, sales continued to do well on a national level on Amazon, and in 2017 a huge door opened — Inspiration Mixes took over the space that was previously Anthony’s Italian Restaurant off Cass Avenue in downtown Roseburg.
The kitchen was then updated with equipment and became a certified gluten-free facility.
“No wheat enters this building. When we make something, we do testing to say that we are certified. All of our ingredients are non-GMO, and we have documentation of where we get our supplies that we are more than happy to share,” said Caterson.
Locally, the baking mixes and 9-inch frozen pizza crust are sold at Sherm’s Thunderbird, Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market, and is available at O’Tooles Pub, Loggers, Two Shy, and Smokin Friday BBQ recently started carrying the hamburger buns.
“‘Hands-down, this is so good — better than anything we’ve ever eaten.’ That is always our response,” Caterson said.
Inspiration Mixes is moving across the state as well, being sold at the Ashland Food Co-op, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, and Sherm’s Thunderbird in Medford. In just the last few months, Inspiration Mixes began being a vendor with Performance Food Group — a food service that selects food brands and products to distribute to restaurants, national chains, concessions, vending, and more.
Caterson hopes from this larger chains will have an interest. “We would love to be a part of Abby’s,” she said.
With a company on the climb and recipes perfected “down to an art,” Caterson feels they are where they need to be and is looking for next steps. “Baking mixes are great, pizza is great – where do we step out from here?”
Caterson started just this summer selling products at the Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market in order to get a feel for what the market could bear, as well as get customer feedback. “We really rely on our customers to tell us. We have open ears to what they want,” said Caterson.
One of those next steps Caterson is seeking thoughts on is if she should open the kitchen as a bakery/storefront. “Maybe we’ll start with one day per week,” she said.
Currently, Caterson has a team of a facility manager plus three employees helping with production. She assumes as the business grows from being a part of Performance Foods, they will add more employees. “All we need to do now is work, and get the word out,” she said.
In addition to Inspiration Mixes, Caterson is the director at the Small Business Development Center — where she went years ago to get help with her business. After the center greatly assisted with Inspiration Mixes, she paid it forward and became a business advisor, and now director.
Whatever the next steps are, Caterson has witnessed over the years substantial growth both in her grandson’s health and her company, and she anticipates even more.
“So many children with autism have been helped by a gluten-free diet, and doctors are getting better at diagnosing — they are more educated about gluten intolerances,” said Caterson. “Some people think gluten-free is a fad — it isn’t a fad, it is really something real.”
Caterson has a cookbook available, “Inspiration Mixes: Gluten Free Mix and Match Meals.” The book is for sale on Amazon and proceeds go to the Autism Treatment Center of America for scholarships, like one they received for Butler. Caterson said the Center’s in-home program dramatically helped her grandson. “It took him from a deep, dark hole into the light,” she said.
Caterson said Butler is now on the other side and she knows he will be an amazing part of society.
“What was a devastating diagnosis turned into an amazing journey. And we are not done yet! It took a village of people, support, and money to make this happen, and most important, lots of love,” said Caterson.
The public can place orders by calling 541-430-2001, or by visiting inspirationmixes.com.