**Please read BOTH experiences as you will see what I mean when I say that dining out with celiac disease, even when the manager assures you all is safe and gluten free can still be SO incredibly scary!!**
One of my very best friends (since 14) and now cousin (we married cousins) is moving out of state. We decided to do one last girls night. I had been wanting to try BJ’s Brewhouse for awhile now since I had heard such great things about their gluten free menu. I was thoroughly impressed that upon our arrival the manager came to our table to talk to us about how careful they are about avoiding cross contamination. They use separate utensils, pans, cooking sheets and even separate bottles of dressing kept in a separate area. He assured me that the menu item I was looking at was gluten free and that the side of dressing was as well.
I went ahead and ordered the Chicken Bacon Ranch gluten free pizza with a side of ranch dressing and buffalo sauce (because I like things with a kick! ;). It was THE BEST gluten free pizza I have had to date!! Oh my goodness, the toppings were fabulous and in full abundance while the crust was flavorful and didn’t fall apart. I was VERY impressed with the size and the price as well. It was the largest gluten free pizza I have ever had but maybe it was just because it was so good that it looked gigantic in my eyes!
For dessert I ordered the gluten free chocolate chip pazookie that was topped with cold, delicious vanilla ice cream. It was fantastic!! It was also large enough to share with my sweet friend. I have to say, GREAT job BJ’s Brewhouse. I feel safe at your facility and LOVE the flavor of your gluten free menu items!
After my “wonderful” experience last Monday at BJ’s Brewhouse and their “safe” gluten free menu, my friends took me there again today to celebrate my birthday. I was SO excited to order the same meal as last time as it was one of the best gluten free meals I have ever eaten. Let me go ahead and give you a recap of my week from 1/2 hr AFTER my last meal at BJ’s Brewhouse before I go on…
After the meal on 4/22/13 my friend and I went to see a movie. I told her in the theater multiple times, “Ah, my stomach hurts so bad! Stupid dairy!” I know I have a dairy intolerance but for pizza with ranch I will give in since it isn’t like celiac disease which is an autoimmune disease and something I would NEVER, I repeat NEVER cheat and eat gluten with. I KNOW the severity of celiac disease and and an advocate for living truly gluten free for life for those with celiac disease. I know what my stomach does with dairy and it is VERY similar digestively to what happens when I get glutened and since I just ate a heap of dairy at this meal, I assumed it was my payback. The next day, other things started happening that I just chalked up to be the stress of being a mother, wife, start up business owner, celiac advocate and local CDF Chapter President in addition to many other hats I wear. I was being SO cranky with my family, especially my husband. I was snapping at him for no good reason and giving him a nice dose of unnecessary snark and rude attitude. I was irritable when anyone would even accidentally pull my hair or run into me. It was like my irritation matched together with my body aches, made me a ticking time bomb of crazy. I wasn’t being patient with my sweet babies and was getting impatient with them with just the little things like getting out of the house for an activity with things said like, “Hurry, hurry, come on I know you can go faster than that son!” Every day I was breaking down inside and even to my husband and closest friends saying that I was a horrible mother, wife, business owner and friend. I felt depression like I never have before. I told my husband that I would never achieve the standard to which I help myself to in all things I do. I would never be the kind of wife or mother I wanted to be. I would never do the best I could with my businesses and celiac advocacy because I just didn’t believe I was good enough. I have never struggled with confidence or knowing my worth and value so this kind of depression and breakdown was taking it’s toll on me. On top of all of that, the fatigue became debilitating. I was sleeping any chance I got and could never feel rested. I once fell asleep at nap with my kids to wake up to my son awake and ready to be picked up out of his crib but not knowing it was even daytime. I woke up wondering why my husband wasn’t next to me. I actually thought it was the next morning!!! I finally took a pregnancy test because I could think of no other reason that my fatigue and emotional chaos could be so extreme and debilitating. I was not pregnant which deep down I knew. My final breakdown was today 4/22/13 when I was driving to meet my friends at BJ’s Brewhouse to celebrate my birthday lunch (my bday isn’t until Thursday but Monday worked best for everyone and I was talking to my GFBF Julia (you may remember her from Julia’s Gluten Free Bakery) on the phone and I just broke down telling her how alone and sad I felt, that I was never going to be good at the things I am doing, most importantly a wife and mother. She, as always, understood my pain and gave me all the advice I needed to hear. I literally could feel her love with me. I am so blessed to have such an amazing girlfriend who understands, literally, what this celiac/wife/mother/business owner/advocate/christian woman life is like and the standards and expectations we have for ourselves to not only achieve but do it ALL with flying colors. She assured me that we as mothers all feel this expectation and stress which helped a lot. So this week has been a living nightmare for me. Emotional feelings and fatigue like I had never felt before. On top of it, today I started feeling the nueropathy in my hands and limbs which is SO uncomfortable and makes you even more anxious.
So, back to today and ordering at BJ’s Brewhouse…I went ahead and ordered the same thing I had before but instead of a whole Bacon Chicken Ranch gluten free pizza, I did half that and half the cheeseburger toppings on a gluten free crust. My friends and I were laughing and talking when the waitress came out with a female manager and began talking to me. The manager wanted to let me know that the Bacon Chicken Ranch pizza is NOT gluten free as the chicken seasoning contains wheat. Also, the ranch is NOT gluten free. I literally just burst into tears right then and there. I told her about why we were there, because I had such a great experience at their location last week with the main manager kneeling at my table to ensure me of the measures they take to ensure safety for those with celiac disease and avoiding cross contamination. He personally told me that the Bacon Chicken Ranch pizza was gluten free as was the ranch dressing!! She apologized profusely telling me she didn’t know why he would say that since they are not. She talked to me about everything and told me that they do in fact go to great measures to avoid cross contamination using different utensils, cooking pans and stations. She showed me the gluten free menu and put together a truly gluten free pizza to provide me with for free as my friends had all already ordered. I questioned and questioned WHY, WHY he would mislead me. I was heartbroken. I had one of the hardest weeks of my life because of his miscommunication and lack of knowledge. She said her daughter has a peanut allergy and that they carry an epi-pen so she truly understands the severity of celiac disease and the effects of eating gluten. She apologized over and over and let me know that she would talk with this manager as well as the entire staff about the experience. While this was very kind, as was she, I was still humiliated to burst into tears in the restaurant with all my friends (Which are amazing btw and totally got defensive for me and let them know it was just not ok. They are amazing girls who love me and know the challenges I face daily with this autoimmune disease. In fact, my best friend also has an autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s disease, so really understands the severity of celiac disease.) and was devastated to have literally questioned my own emotional stability all week. I should note that the gluten free pazookie is in fact, gluten free. Or so I was assured again today. I can see one positive with going back and finding all of this out, at least I know WHY I was having this kind of week and be reassured that I am not crazy. It was strictly the symptoms of being accidentally glutened.
This kind of experience just goes to show what risks we take EVERY time we dine out. We can have the manager come talk to us and question them over and over but it is always a risk to dine out with celiac disease. Please be your own advocate whenever you do choose to dine out, but know you are ultimately putting your trust in someone else’s hands. I feel for all of you who have already experience this in your life. If it was anything like my week, you deserve a medal!! I love you all and send my hugs to those who need it…