By Brandon Martin
Diet programs have long been a mainstay on television infomercials, but one local resident has taken the idea to the next level, and the concept has been so popular that two months in, he is considering expansions.
Laurence Vanderwoods, who champions the effects of the keto diet, has been busy operating the Gourmet & Keto Entree Express & Bakery on Virginia Avenue in Collinsville for two months.
According to Healthline, a keto diet consists of low amounts of carbohydrates which are replaced by foods higher in fat. The reduction in carbohydrates puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, and the body becomes efficient at burning fat for energy while also creating ketones in the liver that supply energy for the brain.
Vanderwoods said that his keto-themed bakery isn’t lacking any sweetness even though sugars make up most carbohydrates.
“We use alternative sweeteners like Erythritol and Swerve. Everything that we do here is low-carb and sugar-free,” Vanderwoods said. “We also offer gluten-free because keto uses almond flour and coconut flour. We use no pea powders, no wheat gluten or anything like that. Just almond flour and coconut flour to make everything that we make.”
Before jumping into his keto-themed restaurant, Vanderwoods said that he had to know the effects of the diet himself.
“I did not go to school to learn,” Vanderwoods said. “I’ve been doing keto for a long time before it was even keto.”
The keto diet is like the Atkins plan, he said, adding that the two “are pretty much intertwined, but keto is a little bit more restrictive than” the other plan. “I’ve lost 141 pounds myself.”
Vanderwoods said he decided to combine his newfound passion for the diet with his other passion for cooking.
“I’ve always loved to cook. I am a certified chef, but not keto certified. I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘keto-certified chef,’ but I do call myself a keto chef now because that is what I focus on,” he said.
Although it might not be recognized as a specialty, Vanderwoods said that the only way to become an expert is by gaining experience.
“There’s all different processes of becoming a chef. The biggest part is experience. Working from sous chef up to work under a chef, to work being a chef,” Vanderwoods said. “Did I go to school to become a chef? No. I’ve cooked at 5-star establishments down to little local establishments. It’s all about experience.”
Before venturing out on his own, Vanderwoods said he tested his products at another local establishment.
“I was working at a different location at the time, and my product became strongly desired. So, I thought ‘why not do it on my own,’” Vanderwoods said, adding that his brother joined as a partner in the new venture.
“He does not do keto himself. He’s only like this big around,” he said of his brother, laughing while making a small circle with his two hands.”
Between his brother, another employee and himself, Vanderwoods said the staff are always busy adding onto the growing menu.
“All of my recipes here are made by me. We don’t Pinterest. We don’t use other people’s recipes. I made these recipes,” Vanderwoods said. “Most of them, I came up with by just playing around. Our new cookie brownie recipe was me taking a bowl back there and just putting stuff in the bowl and then boom, it happened. So, we are excited about that.”
The keto guru said that the bakery’s goal is to come up with two new products a week and “sometimes we do even more than that.”
“They are the most in-demand product that we sell. We try not to go over 80 meal boxes in a week because it is very time consuming,” Vanderwoods said, adding that the boxes include two of each of the four entrees as well as a cauliflower crust pizza, three keto desserts, keto rolls and keto chicken salad the price of $89.99.
“It’s mostly people that buy them for a week at a time,” he said. “The people that come in here come from all walks of life. It’s mostly people that are on-the-go a lot. People that work and don’t have time to come home and cook.”
The challenge of reinvigorating the menu each day is what Vanderwoods said gets him out of the bed each morning.
“Coming up with something new each week is probably my biggest thrill and goal. People really pay attention to that and what we are coming up with,” he added.
Vanderwoods said that his favorite inventions have been his waffles and the cinnamon rolls.
“Our keto waffles are light, fluffy, airy and it’s my recipe. They are not dense or heavy,” Vanderwoods said. His cinnamon rolls are “what put us on the map. We sell a lot of cinnamon rolls.”
Currently, his biggest challenge is “keeping up with demand, but as far as business goes, that’s the kind of problem that you want to have,” Vanderwoods said. “I’ve got excellent employees and excellent customers. On a Friday, it’s nothing for us to sell out of products five times in that one day. We sell out everything that we have five times.”
Vanderwoods said his establishment has thrived even though the coronavirus pandemic has kept him from offering a dine-in option.
“We do typically sell lunch, which is slow because we don’t have our tables and chairs in here yet,” he said. “I won’t put any in here until COVID-19 decreases or there’s some sort of vaccine. We are busy with baked goods. We sell a lot, with emphasis on a lot, of baked goods.”
Although “we were opening during COVID-19,” starting a business during the pandemic “was not a headache at all,” Vanderwoods said. “It was easy to start up. We didn’t apply for grants or anything like that. We didn’t get any city money, state funding or anything like that. We did this on our own. The county was fantastic. The health department was fantastic. It’s been a smooth transition.”
The pandemic forcing more people to stay in their homes has had a secret benefit for the keto entrepreneurs, according to Vanderwoods.
“COVID-19 did, I think, put a lot of weight on people,” he said. “They say the average person gained 16.9 pounds, so I think we are good for people that are just trying to get back to where they were. Plus, if you do keto right, then it tastes good.”
Only two months into business and Vanderwoods said he is already set to start expanding.
“We plan on opening in Roanoke this fall as a second location,” he said. “We also are talking to a major grocery retailer to put our products in a grocery store. If we do that, that will become a major manufacturing process as well. None of this is set in stone. It could happen, but whatever we do will have to come back right for us.”
Vanderwoods said that his establishment receives visitors from all over the country as well.
“We have customers that come from Charlotte, Hickory, and Raleigh (N.C.). We had two ladies that drove down here from Ohio,” Vanderwoods said.
“We are the only storefront dedicated keto bakery from here to Utah. We did not know that when we opened,” Vanderwoods said. “We are looking at franchising eventually, we hope. Our next big goal after Roanoke is to break into North Carolina.”