When Danny and Olga Turner opened Pushkin’s Bakery in 2013, gluten-free products weren’t particularly easy to find outside of a handful of health food stores. Close to a decade later, it’s no longer unusual to see “GF” slapped on all manner of restaurant menus—just about every pizzeria now offers a wheatless crust, and even Chick-fil-A brags about its gluten-free offerings.
But the Turners were definitely early adopters. In their 20s, they had no food experience when they opened their 29th Street gluten-free bakery with just three products: chocolate chip cookies and two kinds of cupcakes, all from recipes created by Olga because of husband Danny’s food allergies. Now they sit atop a GF empire that employs 150, with a bakery-cafe in Roseville, a doughnut and ice cream shop in midtown and a sleek Capitol Avenue restaurant with an ever-present waiting list and a bustling outdoor patio.
When the pandemic hit back in March, the couple had just added dinner to the restaurant’s daytime lineup of brunch and lunch dishes. For the young entrepreneurs, it was a scary time. “COVID was one of the lowest points for us,” Olga recalls. “It was hard to get out of bed. We asked ourselves, ‘Is it over? How are we going to pay our bills?’” They used the shutdown period to remodel the restaurant and add more seating, and they kept staffers on the payroll by delivering $20 pastry boxes to customers all over the region. When the shutdown was lifted in May, the restaurant, originally called Pushkin’s Kitchen, reopened with a new name, Sibling by Pushkin’s, to differentiate it from the bakeries. (Customers were constantly confusing the three places on social media.)
Sibling was open for only a day before the governor brought the hammer down on indoor dining. But the Turners were still able to offer outdoor dining on the spacious patio, and the city’s Farm To Fork Al Fresco program allowed them to push even more tables out onto the sidewalk and into the street.
Since opening in late 2016, the restaurant has made a reputation for itself with classic brunch and lunch dishes like avocado toast, waffles and fried chicken sandwiches, all gluten free. Olga came up with the company’s proprietary flour blend herself, a mixture of sorghum, rice and tapioca flours plus potato starch that doesn’t become coarse or gummy like other gluten-free flours. It’s allowed the Turners to attract a healthy following of mainstream customers, not just people who avoid gluten. “We’re just trying to make good food for everyone,” Danny says.
Looking at the dinner menu, you’d be hard pressed to know that it, too, is completely devoid of gluten. Dishes such as steak frites, miso black cod and Dungeness crab salad are gluten free by their nature, of course. But fried calamari? Steak tartare with toast points? Tiramisu? Yup, all gluten free. A separate vegan menu offers things like fried tofu salad, miso Japanese eggplant and eggplant lasagna with house-made mozzarella.
Now in their early 30s, the Turners are probably the youngest owners of multiple restaurants in Sacramento. They credit frugal business practices for their success. Their first year in business, they put in punishing 14–hour days, seven days a week, and they didn’t hire their first employee until year 2. Other than a small bank loan, they’ve never had investors. Any money they made, they plowed back into the business. “We were eating rice and potatoes,” Olga says.
Those thrifty habits are now allowing them to ride out the pandemic relatively worry free. “COVID has definitely slowed us down,” says Danny. “But at the same time, it gave us an odd sense of confidence. We didn’t let anyone go.” Now they’re in expansion mode, recently opening Babes, a vegan doughnut and dairy-free ice cream shop in a building on J Street that also houses a brand-new company commissary for prepping food. (They have another commissary in Carmichael where they mix their flour.) And they’re looking for new bakery locations, to boot. “Everything works out,” Olga says. “There’s not a lot of consumer confidence right now, but that’s fine. We’re going to make it.”
Sibling by Pushkin’s
1813 Capitol Ave.