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VOL. 39 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 11, 2015

Younger ‘Mosko’ revives family brand

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Lauren Moskovitz bakes chocolate chunk cookies in her home kitchen.

-- Submitted Photograph By Lillian Chappell

Lauren Moskovitz started hanging around her parent’s shop, Mosko’s and the Muncheonette, at age 5. After school, her mother Cindy would bring her back to the newsstand and deli, located beside the Exit/In in the Rock Block of Elliston Place.

She fondly recalls sitting on a stool next to the cash register and bagging sandwiches, magazines and inappropriate greeting cards.

“When they let me tie on an apron and do the cookies,” she says, “that was the best thing ever.”

The Moskovitz family sold the business and moved to California when Lauren was 14, and since then she has studied in Boston, Chile and Barcelona. She lived in Brooklyn and traveled alone through Southeast Asia for three months.

All the while, she mulled over the idea of opening a bakery of her own until a diagnosis with celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, brought that dream crumbling down.

Since returning to Nashville last year, though, she’s been turning the diagnosis into an opportunity.

While working in the kitchen at Miel, a French restaurant in the Sylvan Park area, she spent her few moments of downtime practicing, testing and tasting her gluten-free baking. She turned 30 this month, had her home kitchen certified for production last month, landed her first restaurant client for gluten-free bread (Silo in Germantown), and launched a website.

She’s calling it Little Mosko’s Bake Shop.

Lauren learned she had celiac disease after her mother received the diagnosis as part of a routine check-up. Since the disease is hereditary, Lauren tested positive, too, which helped explain her mystery illnesses over the years.

“I had been sick my whole life,” she explains. “It would come and go from stomach to head to [being] lethargic. At my worst point, I couldn’t keep any food down, and I was losing my hair…a gamut of crazy symptoms that you wouldn’t link back to celiac disease.”

When you have a sore stomach, she adds, people often offer a saltine cracker or piece of toast. “It’s just compounding the problem.’’

The blessing and curse has left her feeling healthier regardless of its challenges, and it has challenged her to make better baked goods, too.

“I sort of made it my mission to create a product that’s undetectably gluten-free – something that everyone will want. The trial and error and error and error has been really hard, but when you get to that place where you’re like, ‘wow, this tastes amazing,’ it’s such a reward.”

Her memories from the original Mosko’s also have played a part.

Aside from the popular turkey munch sandwiches, she recalls the bakery case with zucchini cake, carrot cake, chocolate chunk cookies and hummingbird cake.

“There are so many things about what I remember eating there, and how special it was. It felt like a treat. That’s something I latched onto and it’s important for me to bring back. It’s obviously remixed to a new day. But I love everything about what I remember it being.”

Her parents, who returned to Nashville in 2002, have been getting a kick out of it, too. “They love it. They say just open the whole thing. Open a Mosko’s and do it again.”

Cindy and Scott Moskovitz launched the original Mosko’s right after graduating from college in 1977. For the first three years, they worked the business from 7 a.m. to midnight.

The couple met on their first day at Memphis State while standing in line to pick up dorm refrigerators. Six hours later, Scott told Cindy he wanted to marry her someday. And then four years later, he made good on the promise.

Lauren Moskovitz bakes five varieties of cookies, including expresso walnut chocoiate chip (shown here), chocolate chunk, peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal raisin and kitchen sink.

-- Submitted Photograph By Lillian Chappell

Lauren calls her parents well-traveled and well-fed. They opened Mosko’s after traveling to other cities and noticing the services Nashville lacked.

“These are people who eat their way through life and have been to Italy multiple times,” she says.

That used to mean passing the foccacia and taking two bowls of ravioli.

“We don’t really care to eat it if it’s gluten-free and not amazing. It’s not worth it.

“For that reason, it’s been important to me to really nail stuff.”

Both Lauren and Cindy must stick to a strict gluten-free diet now. For serious celiac disease suffers – unlike someone who simply choses to avoid gluten as part of a popular diet ­– it means no contamination across knives or cutting boards in kitchens.

Flour can go airborne and be undetectable in sight or taste. Gluten hides in everything from Bloody Mary mix to the adhesive on envelopes, too.

“It is hard. You feel like an annoyance,” Lauren says. “You always have to ask and modify and change things.”

As a cook in a busy kitchen, Lauren empathizes with the work this causes restaurant employees, but it’s a necessary precaution.

Gluten-free also tends to bring an unfortunate stigma in terms of taste.

“The word gluten-free is just so clinical and not appetizing,” she says. “I don’t even want to hint that it could be less delicious than a non-gluten free cookie. You don’t say this is a gluten-full bagel. It’s just a bagel.

“And this is just a cookie. You’re gonna love it, and that’s all you need to know. The gluten-free people will find you because they do their homework, and they have to. It’s not dairy free or sugar free. It’s a treat. That way it’s honoring the good old-fashioned traditions of baking.’’

As Moskovitz continues honing her products and business, you can expect to see Little Mosko’s Bake Shop goods on more menus at restaurants and coffee shops.

The sheet trays she used to place cookies on at the original Mosko’s seemed so big to her once upon a time. Now that she works with these trays daily, they never seem big enough as she plans to continue growing the business.

“Stay tuned,” she says. “There may be some turkey munch specials coming along.”

*In the food business, being “in the weeds” means being super busy. And that’s also how we would describe Nashville’s booming restaurant scene. In this column, Jennifer Justus, journalist, author and food culture writer, keeps us up to date on food, dining out and trends with bi-weekly reports from the table.

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