Move over, sourdough. Banana bread is the true loaf of the quarantine.
At least that is the observation of Annie Slabotsky, co-founder of the runaway baking company gonanas. Since founding the allergen-free baking brand with Morgan Lerner in 2016 as dormmates at the University of Michigan, gonanas has exploded, with the duo now marketing their signature loaves in six states, including many smaller supermarkets around southeast Michigan. And now, anyone who has Wi-Fi access can indulge in making a gluten-free loaf at home by purchasing a baking mix that comes in a growing array of flavors.
Slabotsky, of Bloomfield Township, mixed up her earliest batches of banana bread in her grandmothers’ kitchens. Back when she was a high school student at Frankel Jewish Academy, classmates nominated her as the future Miss Betty Crocker.
Through her college years studying computer science (she says she’d rather be mixing batter than coding on any given day), she baked for sorority fundraisers and then moved on to sell her signature goodies to coffee shops and cafes around Ann Arbor. When graduation rolled around in May of 2019, gonanas was in markets in Chicago and Boston.
“Morgan and I did our research,” said Slabotsky. “There are lots of cookie and other baking good companies, but no banana bread wholesale companies existed on a national level.”
Slabotsky and Morgan acquired commercial kitchen space in Ypsilanti, where they continued wholesaling their bread. To further their niche market, they crafted a recipe that is both vegan and allergen free.
“Bananas have the perfect, binding texture and moisture content to eliminate the need for eggs,” said Slabotsky. “Add some coconut milk and a sweetener such as maple syrup, agave or brown sugar, and you have the perfect, nutrient dense and vegan food.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the “grab and go” culture at cafes and coffee shops driven by harried commuters came to a halt. Gonanas was suddenly left with hundreds of pounds of flour and sugar and gallons of coconut oil languishing in its kitchen.
That is when the gonanas quarantine banana bread making kit was born. The new normal of online grocery shopping opened doors to a line of shelf-stable mixes that come in three flavors with more on the way. All the home baker needs are the mix, some sweetener, and some well-ripened bananas.
“Since the pandemic, it seems we have an even closer connection to our customers who are buying the mixes,” said Slabotsky. “They are showing off how versatile they can be and have created with the mix things like French toast and doughnuts, or are making their own banana bread cereal. They share their creations with our Facebook and Instagram account.”
Also, Slabotsky reassures new bakers that banana bread is a hard thing to screw up.
“At our first attempt at baking from the mix, we burned it. Instead of tossing it, we cut off the top and ate the middle. It still tasted great. You just can’t mess this up. “