When Renee Johnson joined Down in the Valley Bakehouse bakery, she'd been eating gluten-free for most of her life to cope with celiac, an autoimmune disorder.

"When I discovered these good tasting treats at my co-op, my life changed for the good," she said.

That co-op, Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, is also home to Down in the Valley Bakehouse, a gluten-free bakery founded six years ago by Jill Webster, co-op deli manager, and Joanne Lamb.

Johnson, an avid baker herself, left her job in the photo industry to join Bakehouse three years ago, where she replaced Lamb. Early on, she helped develop recipes, manage the kitchen and has since moved into marketing and sales. The company now sells more than 30 products in seven Midwest states and is on the verge of expanding to the East and West Coasts.

Johnson's enthusiasm for these products is contagious. No wonder. Take the Old Fashioned Date Bars with a crumbly streusel top, rich date filling and tender crust. They're rich, taste freshly baked, and are not too sweet. I didn't realize they were gluten-free until I looked at the package.

"If you're dealing with celiac, you have to be so careful," Johnson said. "It used to mean making two pans of brownies, with one that was gluten-free. But everyone loves ours," Johnson said.

Down in the Valley Bakehouse pastries are made with all-natural, non-GMO ingredients, organic when possible. "But remember, these are not meant to be health food or low-calorie," said Johnson. "They are full-on treats."

Down in the Valley Bakehouse, best known for its pies, brownies, date bars, banana bread and muffins, is diversifying its line with baguettes, chow mein noodles, cheese pizza and garlic bread. The company introduces two to three new products per year.

Along with retail grocery stores and coffee shops, hotels and restaurants are offering Down in the Valley products on their menus. "The interest in gluten-free has exploded," said Johnson.

A wide selection of Down in the Valley Bakehouse products is available in all Twin Cities grocery stores and co-ops, some in the freezer section. Many of the individually packaged pastries are also available in coffee shops, delis, cafes and specialty shops, as well. Prices for the individual date bars and muffins run about $4 and a small loaf of the banana bread is about $6. Find out where products are sold at downinthevalley.coop/bakehouse.