Can gluten-free food at Glory Days Grill still be trusted?

can people with celiac disease trust Glory Days Grill?

True Story: I had a friend was a big baseball player back in high school. He could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool boy. Saw him the other night at this roadside bar I was walking in, he was walking out. We went back inside sat down had a few drinks, but all he kept talking about was Glory Days…and how they used to be a trusted source in the celiac community but now they’ve made some big changes and no one knows what to think anymore.

(Dude note: If you’re not a Springsteen fan, the above will make absolutely no sense to you. This will clear things up.)

So…Glory Days Grill is a small restaurant chain with about 40 locations in NC, VA, WV, MD, GA and FL. They are actually on my app. When I vetted them, here is what they told me:

We take many steps to serve our GF guests as safely as possible. We start with requiring every manager and shift leader to be trained and certified in AllerTrain, an ANSI accredited food allergy and gluten-free safety and awareness course and I am a certified master trainer for AllerTrain. We also include food allergy and gluten-free training as part of our hourly team member training for all positions.

We do not have a dedicated GF receiving, storage or prep area, but make every effort to receive, store and prepare our food with as little risk for cross-contamination and cross-contact as possible. We have dedicated (color-coded) tools to prepare any GF meal and we have a designated GF fryer in every restaurant. We insist that our cooks wash hands and put on a new apron and gloves before preparing any GF (or food allergy) meal.

For our GF guests, we offer a dedicated menu of GF items that are derived from our recipes that they know and love, and that have been analyzed for nutritional and gluten content. We have a GF menu that offers a variety of items in every menu category found on our regular menu – appetizers, salads, main courses, sandwiches (available without bread or on a truly great GF hamburger bun), sides, desserts and even a kid’s menu. When a guest requests a GF menu, it is the responsibility of the manager on duty to visit that guest and oversee the order and preparation process to ensure the guest enjoys our food safely. And we emphasize to staff on a regular basis the importance of their role in serving safe food to our GF guests.

While obviously that does not “guarantee” anyone’s safety, it’s pretty damn impressive and from the reviews of the restaurant from the celiac community, it is a trusted establishment. Until recently. Last week, I received over a dozen messages from concerned folks regarding changes at Glory Days Grill. What changes you ask? Good question.

In late 2022, they sold their 22 locations in VA and MD to a group led by the Outback Steakhouse co-founder. This group now owns 37 of the 40 franchises. This group decided to make some changes in the kitchen, none of it good for the celiac community. Specifically, here is what’s new and this is a quote from their executive chef:

To improve the quality of our food and improve kitchen execution, we will be moving to hand breaded chicken, shrimp and fish this year. The introduction of flour to our fry cooking station areas will mean that flour will become airborne in and around our fryers making it impossible to guarantee gluten free fried food long term.

This means goodbye dedicated fryer and hello airborne flour.

But they followed that up with this statement:

The changes mentioned will not occur in most restaurants until later in the year (20230. Also, given the hood system we use, only the fry station is affected. The fryers are side by side but far from the grill which is completely GF. I built the GF menu and have many people that I know and love who have celiac. I would have no issue with them ordering a burger, grilled chicken, a salad, fire grill wings etc. The flour when introduced will be pulled up into the hood but given the proximity of the fryers to each other fried food eventually will not be recommended. I would also say that since the beginning of the GF menu, we have always served foods containing gluten in other stations. Our ability to avoid cross contamination is predicated on training, communication, and caring. My many friends with Celiac will always be warmly welcomed at Glory Days. I have confidence that we can make this transition and still protect our guests with food allergies.

But note the above information is not publicly available anywhere. This was all from back and forth messaging between them and folks in the celiac community (who forwarded the messages to me.) On their website? Nope. On their Facebook? Nope, nope. On Instagram? Triple nope. For a company that claims to be transparent, this is anything but. And it honestly is just a bit FU to the gluten-free community who has supported them over the years.

Still with me? Good.

To hopefully clarify things, I reached out to the customer service and corporate emails. No response. Then I found the email address of their executive chef, Tony Cochones, and reached out with the following email:

“Hi Tony. I am a celiac disease advocate and also the owner of the Gluten Dude app, which includes a directory of restaurants that have been vetted by my team and understand the importance of having the procedures in place to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. I have all of your locations on my app because you have always done gluten-free the right way. I have received a lot of messages in the past week that things have changed drastically regarding your gluten-free preparation and the risk of cross-contamination is now very high. Can you please speak to this so 1) I can let the celiac community know what is going on; and 2) I can make the right decision whether to keep you on the app or remove you.”

To his credit, he got back to me right away and he asked me to call him the following am. I did but he did not pick up. Turns out he was driving in a blizzard in Boston. Understandable. So in lieu of a phone call, I sent him the following list of questions:

  • What specifically has changed in your menu and your protocol?
  • Is your management team still certified in AllerTrain?
  • When are these changes rolling out?
  • Will they be consistent in all 40 locations?
  • Have they rolled out in some locations already?
  • How transparent are specific locations being about the change?
  • How is the staff being trained regarding the changes?
  • You say you introduced the GF menu in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Did/does someone else handle NC, Georgia and Florida? Were they different menus?
  • I assume no flour was in the air before this change. Now that there will be, how will you keep your grilled and pan fried items as safe as possible?

Tony has informed me he will respond as time allows. Are there any other questions you’d like me to ask?

Until we receive answers to the above, here are some answers/opinions I can offer you:

  • Should I eat at Glory Days Grill? Not until we get concrete answers. Until then, I would avoid.
  • Will you be keeping them on the app? ONLY if I am confident in their new procedures. That is to be determined.
  • Do you wish they were more transparent? Hell yeah.
  • Does it surprise you that they were not? Of course not. We’ve been down this road too many times.
  • How long did it take you to write this post? 67 minutes.
  • What are you going to do now? Eat lunch.
  • At Glory Days Grill? You funny.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

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I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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