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Bergen Foodie Makes Gluten-Free Taste Good

Susan Hougui of New City is the founder behind GeeFree, based in Englewood Cliffs. Photo Credit: Erica Gliksman
GeeFree items are sold in grocery stores nationwide. Photo Credit: Submitted

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. – Sometimes, it takes a while to figure out what your next career move should be.

And sometimes all it takes for your "aha" moment is to bite into something delicious -- and know you can replicate it better -- and healthier.

Such is the story behind GeeFree , a gluten-free food company in Englewood Cliffs co-founded by New City resident Susan Hougui.

Hougui, a longtime food consultant for various Fortune 500 companies, always knew there was an opportunity for better tasting gluten-free products -- she had worked on a low carb project years ago and saw an opportunity but wasn't quite sure what "it" was.

She even had a partner in mind for her would-be company -- a master baker she had met at another co-packer years before.

"Steven Levya (owner of Sugarflake Bakeries with locations in River Vale, Wyckoff and Fairlawn) he and I always talked about going into business together -- we just had to find something worthy," she said.

Hougui's "aha" moment came on a trip to Israel where she found a delicious gluten-free pastry dough.

"It wasn't all natural and there were some issues with it, but I figured there's nothing like that in the U.S. So I called Steven and said 'I found it!'

"Long story short, we reverse-engineered the ingredients, made it productionable, all natural and much better tasting. That brings us to where we are today."

GeeFree, which the two started in 2013, is now poised for major expansion. The company presently produces Franks in a Blanket, Spanakopita, Chicken Pot Pie, Cheeseburger Bites and raw pastry dough to utilize in one's own recipes. (Products are manufactured and co-packed in Northvale.) All products are sold in the frozen foods section of select grocery and health food stores in the tristate area as well as in 40 other states.

Thanks to a major capital investment by Procida Funding & Advisors, LLC, sales and distribution are going full blast.

Procida enlisted veteran business executive and health/fitness devotee Michael Getoff to join the GeeFree team as Chief Operating Officer. Getoff has been overseeing the company's efforts to place GeeFree with supermarkets, specialty stores, restaurants, e-commerce sites, club stores and caterers across the country.

A tri-state TV campaign ran in May designed to drive consumers to local supermarket partners. This marked the first time a gluten-free company has advertised on broadcast television. Midwest distribution is in sight and a new line of microwaveable pocket sandwiches are being rolled out.

GeeFree also has a foodservice division that serves restaurants, hotels and catering companies.

"Being an entrepreneur/foodie my whole life, the food business was a natural progression," said Hougui.

"After being in this industry for over 15 years I've taken my knocks and fallen down many times. The key is to keep getting up and trying."

"Passion for life drives me and I see myself involved with supplying and sustaining our need for nourishment till I can't do it anymore."

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