Who knew gluten-free could taste so good?

Loving people through food is Chelsea Ward’s mission, one epitomized by The Local Graze, a business she opened October 2023 in Canton’s Laurel Canyon Village Shopping Center.

Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and candy. Whose mouth doesn’t water when thinking of such delicacies? Unfortunately some people must avoid gluten, and eating such delights could result in serious illness. Until The Local Graze opened, most gluten-free foods often lacked an appealing taste or texture. Chelsea found the solution.

Her store specializes in a wide variety of delicious gluten-free baked goods and some dairy-free options as well. Imagine scrumptious cookies, cakes, and even Oreo cookies and cream bark, all safe for people avoiding gluten. And there’s more.

The store also offers a variety of charcuterie products. Chelsea teaches one to two charcuterie classes a month. “The idea is for four people to come together, spend an hour learning how to style their own charcuterie board, and then stay to enjoy it,” she explains. Laurel Canyon Brewery is conveniently next to The Local Graze, for those who want to take their charcuterie board next door to enjoy an adult beverage with their meal. Customers can pre-order a charcuterie board and take it to the brewery or have their meal delivered there, waiting for them.

The Local Graze customers enjoy more than excellent pastry, sweets, and charcuterie. The shop offers an artistic ambiance that complements the food. Chelsea says, “We showcase Aven Kidd’s paintings, candles from Georgia Rustics Candle Company by Larry and Maggie Stineman, Vibrant Sauces from Juan and Vanessa Brady, and my husband, Eric’s, charcuterie boards and woodworking projects.”

Source: The Local Graze/Facebook.com / Photo Credit: Katie Johnson/KT Johnson Photography

Chelsea and Eric Ward, with the help of their five children, renovated the space at Laurel Canyon Village to bring The Local Graze to life. (Photo Credit: KT Johnson Photography)

Andy and Meredith Slanina, owners of Nina’s Pizza Kitchen, located near The Local Graze, are special people to Chelsea. “They have been so kind, sharing their knowledge and experience. There’s a strong sense of community right here in the shopping center.”

A Personal Journey

Like most of life’s happy endings, Chelsea’s took some twists and turns on her way to living her dream.

Chelsea, Eric, and their five children have lived in Woodstock for fourteen years. Before opening The Local Graze, Chelsea worked as a registered nurse and Eric was in corporate management. She loved to bake and make meals. Chelsea always felt one day she would find a way—through food—to show her love for people and encourage the sense of community.

In early 2020 during her quiet time, Chelsea asked God to clarify her thoughts about a future working with food. In August 2020, after Chelsea dealt with serious and painful health issues, she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) flour, exacerbates the serious autoimmune illness.

As she worked through her own health issues and changed her diet, her dreams of a future in food grew stronger. While she addressed her own challenges with gluten, she learned a large community of people had the same health-related issue. She understood the importance of a gluten-free environment with no cross-contamination; a place that ensures that no stray flour gets into the food.

Testing the Market

In September 2022 Chelsea decided to sell her gluten-free baked goods at a local farmers market to see if there was any interest. The response was better than she expected, and soon Chelsea had regular customers waiting for her to arrive with her freshly made gluten-free and dairy-free baked goods.

Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Ward/The Local Graze

Before opening the brick-and-mortar shop, Eric and Chelsea Ward were regular fixtures at local farmers markets, beginning with their first market event at BridgeMill Farmers Market.

Eric encouraged her to open a restaurant specializing in gluten-free and dairy-free food. In 2022 he quit his job to help Chelsea launch her dream.

“Through faith and the people who have encouraged me, we opened The Local Graze last October,” Chelsea says. The name of the business came to her during a meditation. Reflecting on that time in her life, she adds, “God took me through a season of transition.”

Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Ward/The Local Graze

Long-time customer Julie Miller was the first to preorder a charcuterie order after The Local Graze opened its doors.

When she opened The Local Graze, her previous customers followed her. “So many people came who knew us from the farmers markets. That’s what made our grand opening such a success,” she reports. “We sold six times more than we expected. Canton is a great community. The people are wonderful, and they get involved.”

The Local Graze is more than a place to buy baked goods and charcuterie. “Food,” she says, “brings people together at a table to share an experience, rejoice, and celebrate.”

Celiac Disease Awareness

“Celiac disease symptoms can be vague,” explains pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Hillary Bashaw, medical director of the Advanced Nutrition Care Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “That makes it difficult to identify the problem. Celiac can present through migraines, heart conditions, anemia, and other health issues. We need more awareness of celiac disease.” For more information about celiac disease, Dr. Bashaw recommends the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition website.

For more information about The Local Graze, go to TheLocalGraze.com or call 770-241-3358. Visit The Local Graze at 15 Laurel Canyon Village Circle, Suite 102, in Canton.



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