Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 8:41 a.m.

Former lawyer to open Chattanooga's first exclusively gluten-free restaurant

Warehouse Row gets new restaurant in food court

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Karen Wilson is opening a gluten-free cafe in Warehouse Row in January. (Photo: Contributed)

Former Chattanooga lawyer Karen Wilson found out that her body doesn't tolerate gluten about six years ago, and at that time, it was even more difficult to find gluten-free food, she said.

Now, she is bringing the city its first exclusively gluten-free restaurant. 

The Massachusetts native had been working at the Chattanooga Market with Terry Milsaps, a man who sells gluten-free cinnamon rolls. He's going to be her main baker and kitchen manager. 

"People just kept asking for a [brick-and-mortar] location," she said. "We were just noticing a growing need [for gluten-free products]." 

Fast facts 

— There will be a vegetarian soup option daily. 

— Everything will be made from scratch.

— Items that will be available include soups, salads, muffins, breads and cakes. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, gluten-free means without the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. 

Crave Café & Bakery will open in Warehouse Row's food court in January. It joins Southern Burger Company and Petunia's Silver Jalapeno. 

While putting herself through college and law school, Wilson always worked in the restaurant industry, and upon finding her intolerance to gluten, she started baking, cooking and experimenting more, she said. 

She had been running a catering service out of a church kitchen that she got inspected as a commercial kitchen in exchange for help with Wednesday dinners. She also had been running a personal chef service in which she would go to clients' homes and cook them gluten-free meals. 

With the new business, she is moving away from the personal chef service because she can take care of that through the catering business. 

And she will be moving her catering business into the Warehouse Row cafe.

She said a grab-and-go lunch is the most difficult kind of meal for someone who is gluten-free to find, so she aims to fill that gap with breakfast and lunch options, many of which will be healthy. 

Kale salad is one of the items that will be served at the new restaurant. (Photo: Contributed)

She funded the business both with personal capital and a line of credit for her bank, but she is looking for an investor—"someone to put in a little something for equity," she said. 

She will have about two full-time and two part-time employees initially, and she said the location is ideal. 

"It's a ready-made customer base," she said. "The mix between the retail and the office space and with the yoga and pilates studios—it was just a good, diverse mix in that building, and also TVA [is] across the street." 

Construction on the 700-square-foot space will begin in November, and the plan is to open in early January 2013.

“Warehouse Row is home to an eclectic mix of the region’s best independent retailers and restaurant owners,” Kelly Scott, leasing manager for Jamestown Properties, the company that owns Warehouse Row, said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to add the city’s first gluten-free restaurant to our eateries and delighted they will be serving breakfast to the many shoppers and downtown workers who already enjoy lunch in the Mercantile.” 

And Wilson said she doesn't want the term "gluten-free" to scare anyone away.

"While it is all gluten-free, the lunch is for everybody," she said. 

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