Lou Rotella Jr., president and chief executive officer, Rotella’s Italian Bakery, La Vista, Neb., will be the first to point out that expanding into gluten-free bread, buns and rolls was not his idea. He was not interested in jumping on board this trend as it began to take hold of the baking industry just more than 10 years ago. But after a celiac diagnosis of two family members, his son John Rotella, general manager, was persistent. 

“I’m like my papa I guess where I’m forward-thinking, so I went to my dad and kept asking for a shot, asking for a shot,” John Rotella remembered. “And this was back when gluten-free had just started. It was a gamble on what do you even buy because no one understood it.”

“I think I had a budget of $5,” his brother Lou Rotella III, chief operating officer, said laughing. “I had an ice cream scoop and a Kitchenaid mixer.”

After much trial and error on the small stand mixer, John Rotella scaled up a 5-lb batch to a 1,200-lb batch. The next challenge was figuring out how to get it into the pan. 

“At that point you’re dealing with a batter, right?” he said. “There was a huge learning curve.”

Despite the learning curve, he said the process and product hasn’t changed much since its launch in 2012. The gluten-free operation sits in a bakery within the East facility, completely segregated with a hospital-grade HEPA air filtration system.

“We don’t even want to share air,” Lou Rotella III said.

Today Rotella’s Italian Bakery offers gluten-free bread, rolls, buns and English muffins to its foodservice customers. It hasn’t made the jump to retail, but the company gets emails nearly every day complimenting the product.

This article is an excerpt from the February 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Rotella's Italian Bakery, click here.