Gluten Dude
Dude Note: To honor Celiac Awareness Month and to help raise awareness of our disease, I will be attempting 31 blog posts in 31 days. My goal is simple: to make most of them not suck. If you’ve got ideas for a good post or if you’d like to guest blog, by all means, contact me. Your input is more than welcome. And if you know anybody with celiac disease, give them some extra lovin’ this month. They deserve it.

I swear…I feel like the “gluten police” all of the sudden.

But if companies would just do gluten-free right, they wouldn’t need to be policed.

We’ve already discussed the Domino’s debacle. And I’ve already touched upon the PF Changs peculiars.

And believe me…I get no sadistic pleasure out of taking these companies to task (I get my sadistic pleasures elsewhere ;) )

I’d much rather sing the praises of large companies who do it right…if I could just find one.

Which brings me to the latest carnage in the gluten-free world: Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant.

A few days ago, Chevys’ PR company sent me a press release that included the following:

Chevys Fresh Mex launches an all-new gluten-free menu of its mouthwatering, made-from-scratch Mexican cuisine.  Suitable for those on a gluten-free diet, the menu features salads, corn tortilla-based entrees and more. As part of Chevys Fresh Mex pledge, the brand promises all products are made daily from scratch, with freshness as a theme in all dishes. The restaurant chain created its gluten-free guidelines and menus with guidance from Healthy Dining, and instituted a company-wide training to inform team members of proper food handling and accommodations for gluten-free guests. Where possible, Chevys can also modify additional menu items to accommodate guests’ specific dietary needs. Preparation facilities vary by location and all guests with gluten-related disorders should inform their server beforehand to ensure that preparation and ingredients align with dietary requirements. 

At first glance, I thought this would be a pretty cool option. Gluten-free tacos and margaritas? Bring it on!

But then I saw that last sentence (bolded for your viewing pleasure) and it gave me pause.

So I sent the following email back to them:

Can you share with me how Chevys prepares the the Gluten Free food? Do they use separate utensils and cookware? Do they have a separate location in the kitchen for their gluten free food? Does each staff member have a full understanding of celiac disease and the danger gluten poses? The more info you send me, the better. And I’d be happy to share the info on my blog.

I received a response yesterday…and I think you can see where this is going:

Chevys’ gluten-free menu features entrees that naturally do not contain gluten, or have been modified to omit the ingredients flour, soy and beer. The restaurant cannot guarantee dedicated gluten-free cooking surfaces, spaces, utensils and cookware at every location.  Chevys has taken several steps to safeguard against cross-contamination, including excluding all fried items from their Gluten-free menus, and executing detailed training of all team members earlier this month.  This company-wide training educated all staff members about how to identify which ingredients contain gluten, how to prevent cross-contamination and the dangers that gluten poses to those with Celiac Disease and other gluten-related disorders. All guests with dietary restrictions should inform their server before ordering to ensure their needs are met.

Where do I even start??

How about we start with the ingredients they are omitting to make the items gluten-free: flour, soy and beer.

WTF??

First of all, soy does not contain gluten. Soy sauce does. Perhaps that is what they meant. Secondly, do they include beer in a lot of their food? This would seem to be a strange item to highlight. Thirdly, there are 1000 other ingredients that could contain gluten. Shouldn’t they have said that they are omitting wheat, barley, rye, etc?

Seriously…this really confuses me.

Then they say that some locations do not use separate cooking utensils, cooking surfaces, etc. Which really means that none of the locations do.

And they also seem to think that we can avoid cross-contamination by not eating fried food??? [shaking my head]

And lastly, they sent along their gluten-free menu. And on the bottom of the menu, it has this gem: Many of our meats and foods are cooked on the same mesquite-grill, which is not dedicated for gluten-free. Our management and service team members are not trained on the intricacies of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance and cannot be expected to provide recommendations or other advice on this issue.

This is actually as bad, if not worse, than Domino’s.

So to you Chevys, you get a total swing and a miss and I can only assume you are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon without a care in the world for the people who really NEED to be gluten-free.

Considering this is Celiac Awareness Month, it has been the most bizarre month in the celiac community.

I’m so proud of all of the advocates who have raised their voices and raised awareness, but the large companies who could really help raise awareness just don’t seem to get it.

Fyi…I’ll forward this blog post to Chevys’ PR company and ask them to comment below. Perhaps we can show them the light.

43 thoughts on “Chevy’s Fresh Mex Tries Gluten-Free

  1. “Our management and service team members are not trained on the intricacies of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance and cannot be expected to provide recommendations”

    Seriously? I don’t even know where to begin. My mind is blown.

    • It’s crazy, right? The fact that they publicized their gluten free menu (like Domino’s) without the slightest idea of what they are doing.

      Am I missing something?

  2. Gee Whiz. Someone give Glutendude a badge! Thanks for being the Gluten Police. What are these restaurants thinking! Makes me so frustrated!

  3. I’m honestly not surprised. All chains and big business restaurants will protect themselves with a disclaimer. If any celiac finds themself eating at a small restaurant offering a gluten free menu without a disclaimer (unless it’s a dedicated kitchen) they should be very concerned. I hope everyone puts the same microscope on every gluten free offering they encounter, not just the big guys. Neither option are really safe and most probably do stupid things like chevys is by sharing cooking surfaces and utensils.

    • The odd think is Owen that their disclaimer goes totally against what they said in their press release.

  4. As I have said previously, the “Gluten Free” designation MUST go, it is tainted and provides no useful information for Celiacs. The future needs to be a “Celiac Safe” one. No equivocations, an item is Celiac Safe or it is not.

    It’s okay with me GD if you start issuing tickets.

  5. a real disappointment, but it doesn’t completely surprise me. But yes, this is a lot worse than Dominos. To get a message that is so full of ignorant statements really makes you feel secure eating there, doesn’t it? It just seems like the whole gluten-free thing goes from bad to worse…

  6. It takes a special talent to write a press release like that using so many words, but in actuality saying nothing useful. It took you asking them directly for Chevy’s to admit the one relevant sentence: “The restaurant cannot guarantee dedicated gluten-free cooking surfaces, spaces, utensils and cookware at every location.” And even that was buried deep in the middle of PR speak.

    Last weekend was the dreaded gluten-free hibachi attempt. I was blown away. No words or empty promises, just action. A completely different way of approaching gluten-free in restaurants. http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/ooka-gluten-free/

  7. This is why my “where I will eat” list is getting smaller and smaller. My husband takes the kids out on nights I work late. Mexican is one of my favorite things to eat: but along with gluten there is no dairy in my diet nor non-organic tomatoes …. So there you go! No Tex Mex for me. I may cry next time I go to Texas, but for now I’ll just enjoy my own Mexican cooking in my safe kitchen at home.

  8. There it is again! That “we cannot guarantee dedicated kitchens” at every location. No uniformity. So we should play Russian roulette and guess which ones are safe?

    In that one press release, they contradict themselves. Sadly, they do not even see how this is wrong.

    …”executing detailed training of all team members earlier this month. This company-wide training educated all staff members about how to identify which ingredients contain gluten, how to prevent cross-contamination and the dangers that gluten poses to those with Celiac Disease and other gluten-related disorders. All guests with dietary restrictions should inform their server before ordering to ensure their needs are met.”

    That might make me feel a little reassured, BUT then they say…

    …” Our management and service team members are not trained on the intricacies of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance and cannot be expected to provide recommendations or other advice on this issue”.

    say waaa now?

    soooo…are THEY TRAINED or AREN’T THEY? Make up my mind, people.

    …yikes….just picture me shaking me head back and forth–and to quote Rob…WTF?

    message received – EAT AT HOME.

    Good job, Officer Dude!

  9. Living Without Magazine published a Celiac Bill of Rights:

    Manufactures – food safe from gluten contamination

    Federal Govt – Provide uniform standards and regulations for labeling.

    Food companies – accurately label all food product ingredients.

    Restaurants – provide accurate information about menu items and food preparation.

    Groceries – regularly stock GF products that are manufactured with save practices.

    Airlines, buses and trains – provide accommodation for GF travelers

    Schools and colleges – accommodate students with special dietary needs.

    What a wonderful world it would be!

  10. Last year I had a dreadful time attempting to eat at Disney, a place many have lauded as being so friendly and accommodating to folks like us. One evening I agreed to accompany my group to the Chevy’s right outside the parks. Pre-Celiac diagnosis, I loved eating at Chevy’s and they’ve long been gone from our area. I had no idea how well (or if at all) I would be able to eat there. What an amazing surprise! The manager personally handled my order, when to the extra effort to bake chips for me since theirs were fried in a shared fryer and in general, made it a terrific experience in comparison to Disney. Wouldn’t it be swell if this manager were put in charge of their company-wide gluten-free program? He sure did know his stuff and went out of his way to make sure I had a healthy and delicious meal.

    • Hey Laura,
      Your posts starts off ” a dreadful time at Disney”…what was your bad experience. I am a highly sensitive Celaic and spend 8 wonderful days at Disney last year…I have to admit I ate 95% of my meals at the Signature restaurants on various resort properties…I return there again very soon…I hope nothing has changes. I look forward to hearing from you.
      Kenny

          • Thank You for sharing your blog post on Disney. My experience there was very successful, and I attribute that to eating most of my meals at table service restaurants instead of counter service. The attention to detail is much different.

            You mentioned having great dining experiences in many different cities as you travel…I also travel for work. I will be in Little Rock next week for a business meeting…yes, I did say Little Rock haha You said you had a great dining experience there. May I ask when that was, and the name of the restaurant?

            Thanks!!
            Kenny

  11. I wonder if this will get as much attention in the news as the Dominos fiasco. I sure hope so. This is so ridiculous! This is so bad I don’t even know where to start with this one…

  12. Gluten Dude,

    Thanks for your post. Here are answers to your questions and clarifications on a few points you noted.

    -Gluten-free customization is among our top guest requests, which prompted Chevys gluten-free menu development with Healthy Dining to ensure the safety of our guests and proper training of our team members (including education about gluten, various gluten sensitivities and procedural separation and cleaning to avoid cross-contamination).

    -Our menu offerings omit fried items (including tortilla chips) to avoid cross-contamination from shared fry oil. Some Chevys locations have dedicated fryers; many do not.

    -We modified recipes to omit soy sauce (not soy), as well as flour, beer, wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Understanding there are thousands of ingredients that could potentially contain gluten, we omitted the gluten-containing ingredients that are present in our regular recipes.

    -Yes, we do use beer in some of our regular recipes, such as beer-battered Dos Equis Popcorn Shrimp, and in our Agua Negra sauce used in some Fajita recipes, hence your beer reference.

    -We completed training in all locations to safeguard against cross-contamination in other ways, including proper cleaning of all cook and prep surfaces, utensils and platings, as well as how best to safeguard the health of and meet the needs of gluten-sensitive guests.

    -Training included education for team members to help gluten-sensitive/intolerant guests to make their own decisions about what is safe for their particular dietary needs. We do not encourage team members to advise, but rather to share their knowledge to aid guests in making choices that will be safe for them.

    Again, our team members are trained on specific cooking, preparation and proper cleaning instructions to reduce the risk of cross contamination but we do not prepare gluten-free items in a separate kitchen. We have noted this on the gluten-free menus, which read in full:

    “GLUTEN-FREE We are pleased to offer a variety of fresh, from-scratch foods for guests with dietary restrictions of all kinds. Don’t see your favorite here? Ask and we’ll modify recipes to fit your needs whenever possible — one of the beautiful things about being FRESH Mex! Note: Many of our meats and foods are cooked on the same mesquite-grill or comal, which are not dedicated for gluten-free.

    This menu and gluten-free guidelines are provided by Chevys Fresh Mex with guidance by Healthy Dining as a service to our guests. Chevys and Healthy Dining assume no responsibility for its use and any resulting liability or consequential damages are denied. Our management and service team members are not trained on the intricacies of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance and cannot be expected to provide recommendations or other advice on this issue. All questions and requests for recommendations should be directed to Healthy Dining or the Chevys Fresh Mex corporate office. Please consider your individual needs and requirements, including special requests for compliance, before considering appropriate choices from this menu.”

    To avoid any misunderstandings of context, we’d welcome any additional questions in a direct dialogue. Thanks again for advocating! Always from-scratch, we’re committed to preparing foods to guests’ dietary needs and requests whenever possible.

  13. hmmm. It’s good that they responded but their response is confusing and seemingly full of contradictions. I guess the bottom line is that they’re covering their butts and that you take a big risk by eating there. We Celiacs should probably just avoid this place :(

  14. Why can’t they use a clean pan or foil on the grill? Why not clean utensils? This is so basic for safety. I had to fight with a manger in Wendy’s. He said they make the eggs in a pan but the hash browns on the grill with the pancakes. I asked if he’d just throw the hash browns in the pan with the eggs. He said no! I ordered just eggs and fruit instead of meat. Eventually, it came to the table and he said they did cook the hash browns in the pan and my fresh fruit instead of meat would cost extra. Is this hassling necessary? My friend bought a breakfast too. Don’t they want two customers rather than none? My friends go where I can eat.

    • that is so ridiculous! I’d tell them to go to hell (nicely, of course) and that they have lost my business and gained one angry customer who will rant and rave about them to other Celiacs…

  15. it’s as I’ve always said, dining out is “taking one’s chances”. . . always.

    Last night I ate with some friends at a burger joint (think a local type of applebee’s).

    I ordered something that should have been GF had it been served the way I ordered it–burger, cheese, NO BUN.

    So it arrives, 20 minutes later . . . with a bun. It takes her all of three minutes to bring out a “new burger” . . (please, insert laughter).

    I ate around it (read: I scraped off the cheese that touched the bun, I scrapped off as much as I coudl of the outside and I ate, seriously, just hte middle of the burger.

    Afterwards I talked to a manager and said, “I didn’t leave a tip for the waitress and this is why. . .” “here’s a tip for the bus boy who brought the drinks out,. Please educate your wait staff on fulfilling the customer’s order. I use to be a waitress, I’m pretty tough.” .

    Granted, I didn’t actually tell them I was celiac last night, but really–ordering a burger with no bun should be a NO BRAINER on how it’s served. AGH.

    • I always use the words “severe” and “must must be gluten free” when I order. Otherwise, the server is usually on auto-pilot and won’t take me seriously.

      • My son has very severe allergies, I am gluten intolerant and allergic to soy. I usually tell them, if you don’t get this right the ambulance may have to come after we have to give an injection of epinephrine right here in front of everyone. I will send it back and I will not be happy.
        I will not eat at a buffet and will not eat at most of the places around here.

  16. I just got a reply from Chevys via Twitter. I tweeted this message 5 days ago:
    #Celiacs, please tell @chevysfreshmex that their “gluten-free” menu is dangerous and unacceptable: http://t.co/haP9H8NF
    8:14pm, May 23 from HootSuite

    I just heard back from them:
    chevysfreshmex: @coolclimates We’ve trained our teams 4 gluten knowldg & procedures re: GF & preventing x-contam. DM w/email if you’d like to talk directly.

    so it sounds like they are at least open to communicating. Please consider contacting them and give them a piece of your mind!

  17. I have got to stop getting excited about restaurants debuting gluten-free menus. I keep hoping that there will be a big change in gluten-free dining and I could actually dine out without anxiety and worry. But just not yet I guess!

  18. I also get annoyed when people use “flour” instead of wheat flour. Flour can be made out of anything. This is something people need to specify. I can’t tell you know many times I have told people I can’t have gluten and they say no wheat is in here only flour.
    1. Many people don’t realize flour can be ground wheat. 2. Many people don’t realize flour can be ground anything.

    This goes along with your argument that they say the dished eliminated soy instead of saying soy sauce. As soon as I read flour instead of wheat or wheat flour, or barley flour etc…my red flags when up. If they can’t be correct in their description they can’t be correct in the execution. Even a proper chef, celiac aware or not, should make a distinction in the type of flour, it is a general description of a products form.

    • I get so VERY upset with this. It’s the dumbing down of society as a whole.

      My in laws were SO proud of getting me WHEAT free bread when I came to visit. Hubby had to tell them that WONDER bread was not gluten free. Then I, the farmer’s daughter, had to explain that there is NO WHITE plant. . . there’s wheat and rice and corn and potato and . . . . but there’s no white plant. Sorry. (not to mention, we rarely had white bread in our house growing up, it was all whole wheat, or processed whole wheat without much “whole”).

      I had a coworker rip my head off one day for my eating a sandwich with bread. I had to show her the ingredients on the UDI’s wrapper I was using as a sandwich bag that said the different types of flour O__O.

  19. Hey, Dude! When you have a chance, could you please check out Beer Nuts?!?! They have “Gluten Free” listed on their can but then also something about wheat in the facilities (can’t remember exactly what the can said.) Thanks!

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