By Bob Uphues
In the end, Flur was a victim of its own success. The beloved downtown Riverside bakery, which specializes in producing a wide variety of gluten-free pastries, breads and more, will close on Nov. 28, its owner announced on social media last week.
Unable to land an investor that could help the business expand and automate, Flur was trapped in a Catch-22 of trying to produce handmade pastries on a wholesale level in a space that couldn't accommodate the volume being demanded by customers.
"Please know this decision was extremely difficult to make and it wasn't taken lightly," said Chef Adriana Saldana-Meadath in social media posts on Nov. 10. "Unfortunately, we could not find the right strategic partner who could help take us to the next level."
In an interview with the Landmark, at a table inside what was a small café space converted earlier this year into additional storage to accommodate demand for Flur's wholesale business, Saldana-Meadath said that a combination of economics and sheer exhaustion led her to decide to dissolve the business.
"I have to figure out what my next step is," Saldana-Meadath said. "It's been six-and-a-half years of six to seven days a week, sometimes 14- to 18-hour workload. It has taken a toll. But I fought so hard, because I believed in the product."
Flur opened in July 2013 in the corner retail space at the Arcade Building, 1 Riverside Road. Saldana-Meadath, who trained at the French Pastry School in Chicago, turned out exclusively gluten-free products that strove to prove the absence of wheat flour didn't mean pastries couldn't be delicious.
During the following six years, she succeeded in not only making the small retail/bakery space a Riverside favorite, but also drawing the interest of supermarket chains and institutions who wanted to offer high-quality gluten-free products to their customers and members.
Flur's wholesale business took off, with Saldana-Meadath's products landing on the shelves at all of Treasure Island's grocery stores, all Sunset Foods stores and at four Whole Foods locations.
The products also made their way to several local coffee shops, like Live Café in Oak Park and Counter Coffee in Forest Park. Flur also supplied pastries to the Union League Club, Medinah Country Club and the Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook.
Flur also landed a contract to supply 2,000 muffins a week to the University of Chicago dining room.
In 2018, Saldana-Meadath launched a gluten-free marketplace inside Flur, selling products from other small companies like hers that turned out everything from baby food to snacks, organic tea and other items.
But, in order to take the next step to allow Flur to expand its reach, first regionally then nationally, Saldana-Meadath needed enough space to allow Flur to begin ramping up production through automation.
The less than 2,000-square-foot Arcade Building space needed to be more like 10,000 square feet. For three years, said Saldana-Meadath, she tried finding the right investment partner, but ultimately came up empty.
Unable to buy in bulk quantities to take advantage of lower prices and having to rely on a small staff to hand-make every item instead of being able to employ machines that could mass produce products, it was too costly and labor-intensive to meet the demand, Saldana-Meadath said.
Saldana-Meadath said she began phasing out parts of the wholesale business this summer to see if Flur could regroup and find another location for the wholesale business, but it didn't pan out.
"Who knew how long it would take me to find an investor to jumpstart the wholesale all over again?" Saldana-Meadath said. "I had just run out of gas already."
While she's not sure how and when she'll return to making pastries commercially, Saldana-Meadath said she doesn't want to walk away for good.
"Baking and pastry will always be my passion," Saldana-Meadath said. "I never dreamed I would leave."