Mike Koritko knew almost immediately that he was on to something when Rise Bakery, his gluten-free establishment in Adams Morgan, opened on Nov. 22.
"We had a line out the door for four hours," he says. The next day was no different.
Koritko, 28, received a diagnosis of celiac disease more than 10 years ago, at a time when the market for wheat-free goods was virtually non-existent. And while grocery store shelves are now lined with many gluten-free products, there hasn't been a corresponding boom in local bakeries. Rise is the first exclusively gluten-free bakery in Washington, joining Alexandria's Happy Tart on the local scene.
Initially, Koritko, a former project management consultant, said he expected about a 50-50 mix of customers who eat gluten-free and others who are curious bakery aficionados. Instead, he estimates about 80 or 90 percent of the people so far have been of the gluten-free diet.
Koritko spent more than a year developing recipes with executive chef Mollie Bird. The challenge was avoiding the pitfalls of baking without wheat. "Dense, dry is what I think people come to expect of gluten-free," he says.
Rise's menu, which mirrors what you might find in a typical bakery, includes muffins, danishes, cupcakes, cookies, pies and a variety of bread products. Vegan offerings are available as well.
Rise also sells what may be one of the holy grails of gluten-free baking: croissants.
"They are lights out," Koritko says. "We sold a lot of cinnamon rolls too."
Because we are naturally skeptical journalists -- and also the kind of people who have rarely met a baked good we can refuse -- the team at WaPo Food HQ sampled a variety of Rise's products. And we recruited a gluten-free colleague for her expert insight.
The clear favorite was the dark chocolate walnut brownie, about as big as a kitchen tile. Its fudgy, not-too-sweet base was covered with a layer of chocolate adorned with pieces of nuts and a white chocolate drizzle. A vegan chocolate chip cookie earned plaudits as well. And while their crumb was slightly finer than their kinfolk made with wheat, we were duly impressed with the blueberry muffin and chocolate salted caramel cupcake, which came with a picture-perfect swirl of creamy frosting that survived a bus ride intact thanks to a handy clamshell package.
With a slightly denser texture, the almond croissant was more obviously gluten-free, but we admired its layers and overall flavor. Our gluten-free taster was particularly thrilled, especially having gone years without eating one of the pastries.
A few weeks in, Koritko is confident he made the right career move.
Consulting was "a fine job, but it wasn't for me," he says. "This is a lot more personal."
Rise Bakery, 2409 18th St. NW. 202-525-5204. www.riseglutenfree.com.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled the first name of chef Mollie Bird. This version has been updated.