At Amy’s Kitchen, gluten-free, organic packaged foods are a family affair.
When Rachel Berliner, co-founder of Amy’s Kitchen, was getting ready to give birth to a baby, she didn’t realize she was also giving birth to a business.
It was 1987, and Rachel was pregnant and confined to bed rest. She sent her husband Andy Berliner out to get some food, particularly organic, vegetarian convenience meals that would be quick and healthy.
“I sent Andy to the grocery store to find some ready-made meals. He brought back a lasagna that wasn’t very good. Realizing that he couldn’t find anything organic and vegetarian that actually tasted good, we had an ‘aha’ moment,” Rachel recalls.
The couple began to make vegetarian pot pies, selling them locally around Petaluma, California. People asked for other products, like pizza and soup. And then they asked for gluten-free and dairy-free foods. Amy’s Kitchen quickly met these needs and grew into a successful organic foods company.
“Now, 30 years later, we have over 200 meals to suit every taste and dietary need,” Rachel says.
Family has been at the heart of the business from the start. Rachel and Andy named the company after their daughter Amy. Along the way, they’ve been helped out by grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, and they’ve stated their commitment to keep the company family-owned and run. As Amy has grown up, married and started a family of her own, she has been involved in the business, too.
Amy’s Kitchen focuses on organic, non-GMO foods—mostly vegetarian, mostly frozen, many allergy-friendly. The foods still have a handmade touch—burritos and enchiladas are hand-rolled; pizza crusts and tortillas are hand-stretched; pizza toppings are placed by hand.
The company stands on its strong principles. Amy’s was making organic packaged foods before there was a national organic certification. They’ve been strong supporters of GMO labeling initiatives. They’ve built on-site health centers for workers at their facilities to promote wellness.
These strong principles inspired the development of many gluten-free and allergy-friendly products. In 2001, responding to consumer requests, the company launched its first gluten-free dish, Rice Mac & Cheese. Today, Amy’s offers more than 130 gluten-free items, from gluten-free Chili Mac Bowls to burritos and enchiladas. Many products are dairy-free and/or vegan, as well.
“We want to serve everyone a great-tasting meal,” Rachel says. “It’s especially gratifying to read letters from parents who can easily prepare a meal for their child regardless of the dietary concerns.”
“Many of our meals are inherently gluten-free, and others are gluten-free versions of traditional favorites, like Mac & Cheese. We have even invested in equipment like a new gluten-free pasta maker to allow us to expand our gluten-free offerings,” she says.
According to a company statement, Amy’s Kitchen has “numerous safeguards in place to assure that [its gluten-free] items meet the FDA definition” of less than 20 parts per million of gluten, even though the food might be made in a facility that processes wheat.
“We carefully test our food at every stage to ensure that it’s gluten-free,” Rachel says. “This is very important to us. We want everyone to feel they can safely enjoy our meals.”
In 2015, the company took convenience to another level with Amy’s Drive Thru, a vegetarian fast food restaurant that opened in Sonoma County, California. Offerings include veggie burgers, fries, burritos, pizza, mac and cheese and shakes. Every menu item has a gluten-free or vegan option.
“The idea of a vegetarian fast food restaurant was irresistible,” Rachel says. “However, it was a long road from idea to reality because we wanted to make sure that we thought of everything. Whether it was the reclaimed furnishings, the living roof or the separate grills for gluten-free and vegan burgers, a lot of thought went into every detail.”
Fall 2019 will see the opening of two new locations: one in Marin County, California, and another in Terminal One at San Francisco International Airport.
The company and its offerings keep evolving. New products are often added based on something Rachel, Andy or Amy have tasted and loved, whether lentil soup or vegetarian chili.
“Over the years, we’ve had many great meals, often made by our friends who are great home cooks,” Rachel says. “At other times, we’ve tried something unique at a restaurant. If we can’t stop thinking about that meal or that dish, it often becomes a great product for Amy’s. We’ll ask for the recipe and then we make the food just like you do at home. Once we create the dish on a small scale, we set to work on the difficult task of making that dish on a large scale.”
The wheels are always turning. Rachel says the company is working on reformulated gluten-free pizzas, some new burritos, including a gluten-free plant-based breakfast burrito, and new varieties of Asian bowls.
“We like to say that we don’t manufacture food, we cook it with love,” Rachel says. “And we believe that if we care about everything we do and everyone we cook for, then you’ll be able to taste that.”
Eve Becker is associate editor of Gluten Free & More magazine.