FANWOOD, NJ -- For the past couple of years Nick’s Pizza has been selling gluten-free pizzas, and in that time has built a loyal following of customers who buy them on a regular basis. With every sale, the message from the customers remains the same: Nick’s has the best gluten-free pizzas in the area, according to Rob Watterson, owner of Nick’s Pizza.

The crust ingredients include rice and potato flour and starch respectively. They are 14” pizzas cut into 8 slices. Watterson says that any style of pizza Nick’s offers can be made into a gluten-free version and that the pizzeria goes the extra mile to ensure that those affected by celiac disease are able to still enjoy their gluten-free pizza.

“The ingredients and utensils used are stored separate from the rest. The pies are cooked with a protective screen beneath them to avoid cross-contamination when cooking,” Watterson said. “Thankfully, we have had a 100% success rate with those affected by celiac disease. We are very proud of that.”

Sign Up for E-News

Individuals who have celiac disease require a gluten-free diet for health reasons.  The ingestion of gluten -- proteins found in wheat, rye and barley -- causes an adverse reaction that damages the intestines and can lead to serious health problems, according to gluten.org. Gluten is commonly found in breads, pizza, pastas and other baked goods made with gluten-containing flours.

Gluten allergies and intolerance are a growing health concern and have caused heightened demand for products tailored to meet special dietary requirements, according to research firm Statista. In fact, the market for gluten-free foods is rocketing. In 2016, gluten-free food sales amounted to $1.66 billion and are predicted to reach to over $2 billion annually by 2020, according to Statista.

When Nick’s began selling gluten-free pizzas, only a few customers asked that they sell them. What the pizzeria didn’t realize was that they were contributing to a larger community than they had anticipated.

“We were happy providing these pizzas to just a few of our loyal customers,” Watterson said. “The main thing is families can continue to order from us even though it’s often only one member who has celiac disease.”

“People told me, ‘We enjoy your pizza, but my family comes first. If my wife, son, daughter or whoever can’t enjoy pizza with us when we order then I’m going to have to find a pizzeria that will’,” Watterson explained. “I have a huge amount of respect for the family loyalty I am witnessing with this.”

Nick’s takes the extra steps necessary to sell gluten-free pizzas that specifically those affected by celiac disease could still enjoy. Over time, through word of mouth, demand for gluten-free pizzas began to increase. Nick’s now has a steady clientele for it.

“Some customers just prefer the health benefits of eating the gluten-free crust compared to a regular crust,” says Watterson. “People order them even though they don’t have celiac disease. My staff and I make them to eat all the time. They’re light, and very delicious.”

Watterson knew the gluten-free pizza market was serious when families from towns outside their delivery radius began coming to Fanwood to enjoy their gluten-free pizza.

Gerard Russomanno makes the trip to Nick’s from Cranford regularly.

“I’ve tried hundreds of gluten-free pizzas, and Nick’s is definitely the best,” says Russomanno. “They take the time and care to avoid cross contamination when preparing them. My daughter has celiac disease and has enjoyed Nick’s gluten-free Margherita and Grilled Chicken Vodka Pizzas. Nick’s is our go-to gluten-free pizza spot.”

Nick’s offers any style of pizza on their menu as a gluten-free option. Some of the more popular choices have been gluten-free margherita, the vodka sauce pizza with grilled chicken & fresh mozzarella, and even grilled chicken buffalo pizza with hot sauce and blue cheese.

“Best pizza ever!” says Kristen Hunsaker, a Fanwood resident who regularly orders pizza for delivery via Nick’s online menu (www.nickspizzaanddeli.com).

“Kristen is awesome because she switches up the toppings on her gluten-free pizzas. One time she may order vegetables like mushrooms, onions and fresh garlic. The next she goes for the pepperoni & extra cheese,” Watterson said. “She has fun with the online ordering, and that makes us especially happy since she is a gluten-free customer.”

Adding gluten-free pizzas to their menu has given the crew at Nick’s a different perception of the joy they can bring to a community.

“I think the combination of our ingredients and the way we prepare the gluten-free pizza is what distinguishes it from the rest” says Watterson. “It brings us joy knowing that families can still enjoy our pizza if somebody has celiac disease or prefers gluten-free pizza. The love and appreciation that goes into these gluten-free pizzas is something you truly won’t find anywhere else.”

Nick’s newest venture is adding cauliflower crust pizzas to the menu.

“Cauliflower crusts are selling at the same rate as the gluten-free pizzas, if not more-so,” says Watterson. The Cauliflower crusts come in one size, 8” personal size cut into 4 slices. They are low-carb, gluten-free, and are prepared so those with celiac disease can eat them.

“I was so excited to find this cauliflower crust pie from Nick’s Pizza,” says Paty Smith of Scotch Plains. “Being on a low carb diet, I thought I’d never have pizza again. Nick’s Cauliflower crusts are delicious!”

“The Cauliflower crusts really taste amazing,” says Watterson. “They are going to sell just as much as the gluten-free pizzas. Definitely another proud addition to our menu.”