| Special to Fort Myers News-Press
Small businesses have been severely challenged during the pandemic and some unfortunately have not survived. If not for the ongoing, largely behind-the-scenes work on an ambitious collaboration launched four years ago, the Artisan Bread Company, with a retail store in downtown Cape Coral since 2012, would probably have been one of the casualties, according to owner and veteran area chef Todd Johnson.
While his usually thriving wholesale bread business serving many area restaurants fell off drastically, he has been steadily increasing distribution of Ella’s Flats — packaged, non-GMO, gluten-, grain- and sugar-free crackers consisting of pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, caraway, flaxseed and other seeds. It’s available via Amazon and at 1,000-plus grocery stores nationwide, including all area Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Market and Ada’s Natural Market locations. It’s expected that local Publix stores will begin offering it in April.
“It’s great with any meal or dip and as an anytime healthy snack,” the longtime Cape resident said. “A lot of thought went into the best balance of seeds in each one for the best nutrition.”
The vegan, paleo and keto product line expanded last August with the Everything flavor, inspired by the bagel of the same name and teeming with onion, garlic and black sesame seeds among many others. “It’ll be the bestseller,” said Johnson.
The product, produced in a bakery in downtown Fort Myers, was co-launched with Ellen Macks, of Naples, who he calls a “marketing wiz” and who has followed a keto, low-carb diet since she was 18.
She shares Johnson’s enthusiasm for the Everything cracker.
“It’s trending with all of its different seasonings. It’s so delicious plus has all the attributes like being high-fiber and plant-based,” she said.
On Johnson: “He is so hard working and is a baking genius. He made the product commercially viable. His business relationships led to our initial success in distribution.”
Johnson has also been helping the community during the crisis, giving bread weekly to the Cape’s Faith Presbyterian church.
He also added more gluten-free items last year, some of which have been inspired by his wife, whose Tadpole Apparel shop is adjacent to his store and who was determined to be gluten-sensitive eight years ago.
Gluten-free “is our niche,” added Johnson. “Many people may have digestive issues and not know they are allergic or intolerant to it.”
From among many desserts and other pastries he offers, he believes his gluten-free chocolate lava cake might also be distributed more broadly someday.
Johnson and Norman Love were executive pastry chef and corporate pastry chef, respectively, at the Ritz-Carlton Naples for most of the 1990s and remain friends. He’s also a longtime friend with “the other” Todd Johnson in the area food business, master chef at Rumrunners in the Cape.
“It’s a small world in this business,” said Johnson, who also participates in the Cape’s downtown and Cape Harbour farmers’ markets. “Norman would come back from overseas trips and share what he learned.”
What: Artisan Bread Company
Where: 434 Southeast 47th Terrace, Cape Coral