Celiac diagnosis inspires gluten-free family business

Pierogi gaining popularity with gluten-free fans

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. – Eating gluten-free is one of the most popular diet trends of the year.

However, for people with celiac disease, gluten-free is not just a diet -- it's a lifesaving and life-altering daily challenge.

Celiac disease is the most serious form of gluten sensitivity. Gluten is the stuff in wheat that makes bread chewy and helps it rise. It's also a hidden additive in many foods beyond breads. When you have celiac disease, you must eliminate all gluten.

Four years ago, when he was 12, Charley Bemiss started to suffer from stomach pain and other symptoms.

"The headaches and stomach aches were the main things with the food," said Charley.

His mother Alicia, herself a two-time cancer survivor, also noticed other things.

"He was losing his hair. He'd take his hand and put it through his hair and show me his hand and it was full of hair that had come out," said Alicia. "He was having very bad migraines, which don't run in our family, but they were so bad that he would cry. He was only 12 at the time."

Ultimately Charley had blood tests and a biopsy of his intestines which confirmed the diagnosis of celiac disease. It wasn't easy.

"I accepted it eventually, but first coming back from the doctors, coming home I wasn't ready to live and change my whole lifestyle," said Charley.

Now 16 years old and a junior at De LaSalle, he's made adjustments. He's also inspired a new family business.

"My parents were born in Poland," said Alicia. "I was raised very Polish. My son loves his pierogi."

The problem was, pierogi are not normally gluten-free. But Alicia was determined to make this ultimate comfort food available to her son.

"I said, 'Well, let's make some of our own.' After making them at home and seeing his face and how much he loved them, I decided, you know what, there's got to be more people out there," said Alicia.

And so Old World Gluten-Free Pierogi was born. It took Alicia and her family many months of planning and lots of determination to build the business, but Charley's celiac disease was a driving force.

They started producing and selling their pierogi only 6 months ago out of a carpet cleaning storefront on Harper and Centennial in Saint Clair Shores. Through word of mouth and social media, they have already built a loyal following, and they are sending their first shipment of pierogi to Westborn Market this week.

To visit Old World Gluten-Free Pierogi's website and see their full pierogi selection and ingredients, click here.

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.