Gluten and desserts have always seemed to go hand in hand, leaving the gluten-intolerant and those battling Celiac disease with little to combat sugar cravings. Twenty-four year old Szandra Szeghalmi has found a gluten-free loophole: rice pudding and cakes. Using her Hungarian grandmother's recipes, Szeghalmi brings Hallandale Beach a shop, Rice Paradise, where people can finally rejoice and munch on the tasty rice-based sweets regardless of their tolerance to gluten.
While, the concept is unconventional in the states, Szeghalmi has been pleased with the feedback she's received since opening last week. She hopes to open more locations and franchise stores to make Rice Paradise's rice cakes and puddings as ubiquitous as McDonald's golden arches -- albeit with a lot less gluten and trans fats.
Nestled in a shopping center on Hallandale Beach Boulevard adjacent to a dentist's office, most shoppers in the area immediately turn their heads upon passing the storefront. Opened last week, Rice Paradise is an unfamiliar name, but the bright azure walls lined with sea shells and the smiling faces of the staff behind the counter, draws in spectators from the sidewalk.
"Rice cake is a typical Hungarian recipe," Szeghalmi explains. "I grew up on rice cake, it's a kids meal, but we also wanted to create something new, different, and more than the frozen yogurt shops everywhere. The area needs something different."
The L-shaped counter serves rice cakes on one side, and ten trays of different flavored rice puddings on the other. From Tiramisu to Rum Raisin and Banana Coconut, all the flavored pudding is homemade with the freshest ingredients. The rice cakes are too. Szeghalmi also offers M&M's, walnuts, and strawberry syrup to top all the desserts even though the young Hungarian entrepreneur boasts that you don't really need them.
"It's good quality stuff," she touts. "The Rum Raisin is my favorite flavor and what I would recommend to new customers. It's not a typical flavor but it's good and customers really say it's something special. It might take time [for the community] to get familiar [with rice puddings and cake] but customers will have to come back for more after they try it."
Szeghalmi has recently worked closely with her family and co-owner Tamas Malay to implement more sugar-free rice puddings. They hope to start serving three of these sugar-free puddings by next week. They also will offer more seasonal flavors. Lactose-free puddings is another goal.
"I just want to offer something for everyone," the young shop owner explains. "From age zero to 95, rice pudding is a tradition back home. But this is the first shop of its kind here [in America]."
After getting results from their first quarter in business, Szeghalmi and her family will open more Rice Paradise shops in the area. The young entrepreneur hopes to achieve three or four outposts in Aventura, Miami and Delray Beach. But ultimately, her goal is to create a franchise in the next year and a half after carefully writing the handbook to ensure that none of the handmade quality from her grandmother's recipes is lost in the expansion process.
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