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Correspondent

HARVARD — You might stop by Peaches Bakery and Deli in Harvard for a sandwich because it’s convenient or a co-worker recommended it.

However, if you are on a gluten-free diet, Peaches is all the buzz in some circles. Some even travel long distances for breakfast, lunch, take-out or birthday cakes that are all gluten-free.

“Ten years ago, my husband was diagnosed with celiac disease, which means he cannot eat wheat, barley and other foods that contain the protein gluten,” said Paula Murphy, Peaches’ owner. “He loves bread, and I didn’t know what to cook for him. I joined a support group and learned a lot more. If this was an issue for our family, I knew it was an issue for others.”

Motivated by what she had learned, Murphy began taking steps toward opening a gluten-free food business.

“I always loved to bake and I started experimenting. My friends became my guinea pigs,” Murphy said. In 2001, she began taking classes in marketing and accounting at Mount Wachusett Community College, when her children went off to college. “For every class project, I used my future bakery as a case study.”

Murphy, however, did not enter the bakery business as a novice. She has worked in food service for 25 years, as a cook or baker for Idylwilde Farm, Kimball Farm and other local businesses. She opened Peaches in June of this year in the Appleworks Building on Route 111 near the Ayer rotary.

“Business people thought I was crazy because they weren’t familiar with the word gluten,” she said. “They would say ‘Is there really enough business for you?'”

Apparently there is.

According to Murphy, business is booming through word-of-mouth, Celiac support groups and others, and the Internet. “One woman read about the shop online and drove six hours from Bayville, N.J. She’s doesn’t cook much and both she and her husband are on gluten-free diets. She drove back with lasagna, breaded chicken patties and many other items.”

Regular supermarkets, Murphy explained, carry some gluten-free products but the selection is limited and the food is processed and packaged for a longer shelf life. She adds that people with special dietary needs want the option to enjoy eating in a café setting, or to take home fresh, hot food just like other people. Peaches take special orders for other dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance.

Many of Peaches’ customers do not need gluten-free products and most don’t even know about this specialty. They usually come for deli sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meats, which are widely popular and gluten-free. Peaches offers wheat bread and other baked goods, but these are restricted to one corner of the shop. The staff is fully trained to prevent cross-contamination and only gluten-free products are mixed and baked on site daily.

Murphy is a Shirley resident and the mother of two daughters, plus one son who is currently serving in Iraq. She dedicates most of her time to her new business, starting at 2 a.m.

“I guess you could say I am very passionate about great food. I thought of a food allergy as a challenge at first and now it has blossomed into an amazing business,” said Murphy.

Peaches Bakery and Deli is located at 325 Ayer Road (Route 111) in Harvard. Call (978) 772-2437 or visit www.peachesbakery.com.