Raquel Confections Serves Up Gluten-Free Happiness

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 There’s a sweet new shop in town! Locals are flocking to the lovely lavender-colored storefront serving up a wide selection of gluten-free goodies on Beach 96th Street. This mother-daughter owned bakery, Raquel Confections, is quickly becoming a big hit.

Gluten? Who needs it? Raquel Confections is filling a longtime need for more gluten-free options on the peninsula for those with celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance, but the delicious options will have any mouth watering, no matter your dietary preference. The baked goods and sweets speak for themselves. Consider big seller, Mom’s Favorite, an oatmeal cookie with pecans, cranberries and white chocolate. Cinnamon rolls with just the right amount of sweetness and spice. Or new additions like vegan berry rolls, or a selection of cheesecakes from cherry to raspberry to salted caramel pretzel. Or maybe you’re in the mood for a fudge brownie or fresh fruit tart? They even offer specialized cakes and gluten-free breads that are in such high demand, they require being ordered ahead of time.

All of these goodies are now being offered by the mother-daughter duo of Victoria and Tara Thomas of Raquel Confections. Raquel comes from Tara’s middle name, and as someone with celiac disease, she knows the value of having quality gluten-free options. “I would go to different places and try to get gluten-free options, but it wasn’t the best. I didn’t like the taste, so I wanted to make something that everyone could enjoy. Everyone deserves a little happiness,” Tara said.

Tara knows a thing or two about happiness. After all, becoming a baker was all part of her personal pursuit of happiness. Tara was pursuing a career as a doctor, studying psychology and pre-med in college, but her mother, Victoria, could tell it wasn’t what her daughter’s heart was set on. “Medical school and books were expensive, but I didn’t care about that,” Victoria said. “Her well-being is what made a difference to me. I didn’t want her to grow up unhappy.” After spending some time working at Sayra’s wine bar, putting in precision and detail into the small plates, Tara realized her calling. Victoria noticed it too. “When she worked at Sayra’s, she was so particular about how her plates went out and she would even rearrange plates that other staff made before sending it out and I realized she had a gift for it. We’d go out to eat and she’d send things back to the kitchen. I was like, what are you, Gordon Ramsey?” Victoria recalled.

That culinary precision was in her blood. Tara says she picked up her knack for knowing quality food from her late uncle, who had her sampling caviar and other delicacies from a young age. “We always grew up with quality food in the house,” Tara said. Her grandfather also owned a catering company—something Victoria continued, in between performance gigs as recording artist, Vikki Love, and as part-owner of a restaurant in Inwood, which recently closed due to coronavirus.

The thought of culinary school peaked Tara’s interest and she soon landed a spot at the Institute of Culinary Education, where she began training as a pastry chef. It wasn’t long before Tara’s skill got recognized and her pursuit of happiness led her to the “happiest place on Earth”—Disney. In 2019, Tara was accepted into the Disney Culinary Program at Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Working with the allergy team, Tara made sweets for all of Magic Kingdom’s big events and dessert parties for more than six months. But home was calling her name.

Tara returned home to Rockaway and continued making desserts from a home-based kitchen, but it wasn’t long before her next step started calling her name. Tara and Victoria say they weren’t necessarily looking to open their own bakery, but opportunity came knocking.

After going on a support local business-spree, frequenting local eateries to show them some love during the pandemic, that love was returned. “We patroned everyone, but we kept going back to Bernadette’s Summer Spot on 90th Street. We went there three times in one day. As pescatarians, they had some things we could eat, and during that third time, owner Tyree Robinson said, ‘aren’t you the singer? Aren’t you the baker?’ and we said ‘yeah,’ and he offered us up this spot,” Victoria said. “We looked at each other and said, this is what we need to do.” With Bernadette being Victoria’s middle name and the store’s color being her favorite, it was as if fate was handing them their next opportunity. The ladies took the spot right next to Bernadette’s on Beach 96th Street. “It was the best decision we’ve ever made,” Tara said.

Raquel Confections opened on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21 and has already made a big splash in the neighborhood. “For the past few weeks, we’ve been constantly selling out of stuff,” Tara said. “We have people banging on the door after we close,” Victoria added. It’s also clear that offering gluten-free options has filled a longtime need in the community. “Last week, we had a couple come in that heard about us. They bought a box of items and came by again over the weekend to tell us that within an hour, their son had devoured the cinnamon roll. He hadn’t had anything that good since he found out he has celiac disease,” Victoria said. “We had tears in our eyes listening to this. This is why we’re doing this.”

Even other businesses have shown some love. From Cuisine by Claudette’s requesting orders of their gluten-free bread, to groups like Edgemere Farm and the Rockaway Youth Task Force requesting items like kale muffins, and even a potential partnership with Mara’s Ice Cream, to provide gluten-free ice cream sandwiches, the possibilities are endless for the future of Raquel Confections.

Currently working out of a small gluten-free kitchen on site, the ladies have big hopes for what’s ahead. “I definitely want to have a café because I want people to come sit and enjoy everything. Obviously not now with coronavirus, but hopefully in the future,” Tara said. “We’d also like to do wholesale down the line. I’ve worked in wholesale and I enjoy doing it and it makes it a whole lot easier to sell things in the shop and elsewhere.” Victoria expanded upon this, saying, “I want to go to Stop & Shop one day and find Raquel Confections.”

In the meantime, you can find Raquel Confections at 95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd. They’re currently open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 By Katie McFadden

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