BJ’s Brewhouse and why it is still SO scary to dine out with celiac disease…


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**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!!**

Monday 4/22/13

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!

Monday 4/29/13

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…

*These are my opinions and my opinions alone. Also, each location is managed differently so please make sure to check with all the procedures for handling gluten free food at each location you choose to visit. We hold no responsibility for each persons individual experience at this or any other restaurant.

Comments

  1. I had dinner Sat night in a local restaurant with a friend who is celiac, as I am. They have a nice GF menu. We had a long discussion with the waitress about the importance of separate pans, cross contamination, etc. She took our order, and then said she’d be right back with a basket of Bread and rolls! We reminded her about NO gluten, flour, wheat, etc. They had a special appetizer made of a thin slice of Karmasso cheese (not sure if I’ve got that right), which is normally dusted in flour, sautéed, then they add ouzo, and flame it at your table. They douse the flames by squeezing lemons over it. For GF, they just don’t use flour. Our appetizer came, and was flamed. We dug into it, and were about halfway through, when the waitress rushed to our table and grabbed the plates right from under our noses, and whisked them off to the kitchen. She came back a few minutes later, very upset. She had given us the wrong one, and it had flour in it! They made us another GF one, but by this time, we both knew the damage was done, and a pall was cast over the rest of the evening. My date and I discussed what we could do to minimize the effects that were sure to hit us later. When I got home, I took 2 Benadryl, and a dose of Pepto Bismal. Needless to say, I spent the next day at home. Taking the Pepto before the symptoms really hit did seem to make the effects not as bad as they can be, although still unpleasant. I had eaten in this restaurant before, with no ill effects, but it shows you that one little slip up in the kitchen can cause a day or two of suffering. I never have symptoms as long as I eat at home.

    • Chandice says:

      Marie,

      Thank you so much for sharing this. It is amazing to me how scary it STILL is for us to eat out. I do hope one day the severity of gluten to those with celiac disease will be as acknowledged as peanuts for those with a peanut allergy. Thank you for your thoughts, well wishes your way girl…

  2. Susan Martin says:

    Well, try living with a Mother in Law who “forgets” where my gluten free areas are. (She , my husband and daughter eat regular bread.) She cut her BLT on MY cutting board and then LEFT it there without telling me! It was also on my “gluten free” counter.

    If I ever win the lottery the first thing I am doing is getting a house with TWO kitchens and TWO sets of everything, color coded! And I’m locking MY kitchen up! My point is, as opposed to the above comment about being safe at home, I don’t even feel that is true for me, sadly.

    • Chandice says:

      Susan,

      This is so devastating. I send well wishes your way and positive vibes that you will get your two kitchen dream one day. Thank you for your words…

  3. I have had a horrid gluten free experience – 2 times in Orlando. I am certain the first time my pazookie was not gluten free. I have blogged about them twice. I gave them a second chance in Orlando and while I did not get sick, there was a huge chance I could have due to the way they handled my order and subsequent request to make changes to mistakes.

    That said I had a positive experience at a BJs in Houston.

    Regardless education should be the same at all. And there should be some difference in how the dishes look. If they look the same there are too many ways a mistake can occur i. e. gluten free pazookies look the same as gluten filled ones. My daughter had mine during the time I got Gluttened and a regular one in Houston and stated they tasted exactly the same.

    • Chandice says:

      Wendy,

      It really is so, so scary to think that we literally put our lives in the hands of people we don’t even know everytime we eat out. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  4. You poor thing! This happened to me at my local PF Chang’s before. I go thru the same anxiety and depression as well. You aren’t alone love! Your experience resonates with me and the rest of the celiac community. I do hope you feel better soon!!! Sending lots of love. <3

    • Chandice says:

      Thank you so much Pamela, you are amazing and just made me feel so great reading this post! I am so blessed to have been connected with people like yourself that give you virtual hugs when you need them most. Remember, I am always here for you should this ever happen to you again as well. It is so great to know we are not alone. :)

  5. I have the same issue with my husband and kids. It’s frustrating beyond belief! I’m so sorry you had that happen.

  6. Erin Lane says:

    I am so sorry that this happened to you! It sounds terrible. And to burst into tears at your birthday dinner? That is just unfair.
    I was glutened by a close friend last week. It was awful. She made me a soup. Listed all the ingredients in an email. Told me all the ingredients again just before I took a bite and then added, “oh, and I threw in some bulgur.” I spent a week trying to control my emotions and understanding why I was feeling this way. The worst part of it is that I am 34 weeks pregnant and so upset about what could happen to the baby. My blood/urine tests were totally messed up this week (not surprising) which caused even more stress.
    I know my friend felt bad, but I have no idea how to stress to her how important it is that I don’t consume gluten. If I had gone into shock and had to be rushed to the hospital, would it make a difference on how careful others would be?

    • Chandice says:

      Erin,

      I am so sorry girl. That is the hardest when your friends and loved ones are trying to help so you feel trapped and wrong if you say anything. I can tell you that it is always best to speak up while remembering to thank them for their love for you and their efforts on your behalf. Good luck with everything Erin, I am always here to chat. :)

  7. I have eaten at BJ’s twice now, and both times have had an excellent experience. I only order from their allergen menu, and remind each person that comes to my table, that I can’t eat wheat/gluten (Celiac seems to confuse them – wheat/gluten allergy most seem to “get”) – and when the food is delivered, I ask again. I think it is always safer to review the allergen menu to see what is listed, and then ask again when you order. Their ranch dressing is listen as OK on their allergen menu (no wheat), and I’ve had a side of ranch with my pepperoni, bacon, & ham pizza without any issues. I rarely eat out, but BJ’s is one of those places where I generally feel safe as the staff (at least at mine) seems well trained, but it is always a risk eating out. I’m so sorry for your experience!

    • Chandice says:

      Lori, thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I had heard wonderful things from many people about this restaurant so was saddened by this experience. The most heartbreaking part was that it was the main manager who went over everything with me and made me feel safe and secure with my dining experience there. :(

    • Using the term Celiac is a good way to see how educated the staff really is about gluten

  8. [sigh] Heartbreaking. And scary. You can expect that type behavior from a restaurant(it’s disappointing but not surprising) but when your mother in law or your friend sabotage your health….it’s just so wrong.

    Because I have several food allergy issues I stick to single ingredient foods or take/prepare my own when visiting family/friends. I miss being able to go out to a nice, relaxing restaurant meal. It just seems that I’ve lost a great deal of my ability to trust.

    Really sorry this happened to you.

  9. Nicole Black says:

    Awe, Chandice. That’s not fair. I’m sorry that happened to you. I cried for you when I read this (& my sweet husband laughed at me!) I worry about this every time we take Brynlee out to eat, no matter how careful the employees promise to be. It is so interesting hearing your symptoms all week. Our girl is too little to explain all of that the way you are able to. It makes me sad to think that some of her 2 year old moodiness is probably accidentally gluten related. Thanks for sharing and hope your birthday is fabulous and 100% gluten free! :)

    • Chandice says:

      Thank you so much Nicole, your genuine care for me and understanding of what I am going through since last Monday is more than I could ever ask for from the wonderful people like you who follow Gluten Free Frenzy. I appreciate you so much and am always here to talk with you. I have a two year old too with inconclusive results that we are waiting to go get tested again. It is so much tougher with your little ones because you just feel so deeply for them… Hugs

  10. We had the same problem with BJ’s. My 17 yo daughter was glutened after being reassured by the manager that they were well aware how to prepare and avoid cross contamination. We had not even left the restaurant and she was in the bathroom. My husband approached the manager and talked with him. He told us, after reassuring her at the table several times, there is never any guarantee. The manager would be sure to notify corporate of her contamination and apologized. Meanwhile, I am in the bathroom with her, in terrible pain, gas and what we call “the outs”. We stopped twice on the way home and she suffered all night with joint pain and body aches. I never know who to trust when it comes to eating out with her. I’m still unsure, unless you have celiac or know someone who does, that anyone really gets it. It’s not just a desire not to or a fad diet for her, it’s a HAVE TO AVOID.

    • Chandice says:

      Julie,

      I am so sorry to hear what has happened to you and your family. It really is so scary for us out there. I have had many experiences when I haven’t even made it out of a restaurant before I was running to the bathroom. I feel your pain… :(

  11. I know about the physical symptoms but I was totally unaware that the horrible bouts of depressions and spiralling into the dark were common with other people. Since I am basically a happy person – was before I was diagnosed at 50 having no prior celiac attacks until that age, I know it is not me to be such an emotional monster. I am grateful to have read today’s post as next time it happens (and it will) I will be aware that it is from the food and not from me! Also Erin – I know what you mean about well meaning people and mistakes at their home. I would rather eat at a restaurant than at a relative or friends home. In fact I bring my food in containers that I can eat out of – just pop in microwave or take out of refrigerator and throwaway utensils. No prep necessary.

    • Chandice says:

      Thank you Suzanne for sharing. It is always helpful to know that you are not alone. Hugs and good luck with all you must deal with.

  12. I know I’m late to the party but all I can say is wow…and I’m sorry…and wow again. It is an absolute celiac mine field out there

    • Chandice says:

      Thanks so much dude, yeah it was literally the worst week of my life and the worst part was not knowing what was wrong until I went back the next week. I literally thought I was in depression and felt so ashamed because I am the luckiest woman in the world with my two wonderful boys and the most supportive husband. It was also very frustrating because I keep thinking, “What could I have done differently?” The answer is nothing. I had the full suited manager kneeling at my table explaining everything to me from the gluten free options to preparation and cross contamination. He assured me all would be ok. If I couldn’t trust him in his restaurant, I don’t know who else I could trust. :( Thanks for the support and for all you do to raise celiac awareness. I am so grateful for so many wonderful people who want the same things as I do, safety and celiac awareness.

  13. I was a waitress in multiple restaurants and I know how dangerous cross contamination is. Even if the cooks do everything right and are careful, what if the wrong plate comes to the table? It happens. Or they start putting crutons on a salad and then just pick them off. I’m way too sensitive to chance it.

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