Tag Archives: summer

Return to Red Robin

First, I want to extend an apology to my readers. Many of you may have felt that I recently dropped off the face of the earth seeing that I haven’t put a blog out in over a week. This absence comes after me being so diligent in providing 2-3 new posts per week during the months prior. Thank you for caring and my apologies for the delay. I really don’t have any excuses as to why I have not been writing except that during the summer with the kids at home, the schedules and the free time available for me to write has changed. What used to be time spent being creative and advocating the gluten free and Celiac lifestyle through blogging has now been replaced and taken over by transporting children to camps and unscheduled trips to the pool. I know. Many of you are saying, “Oh, boo hoo, Celiac Teen Dad. You have to take care of your kids and you have to go to the pool.” Trust me. I had the same thoughts for 15 straight years and I’m not complaining about having the ability to spend time with the kids now while they still want me around. I’m just saying that it’s an abrupt change that I’ve needed to adjust to. Again, a pretty flimsy excuse for not sitting down and busting out 600 words for the sake of my son’s health. But, I think that I’ve got it under control.  It took me two and a half weeks but I’ve found a groove where I can work on what I need to and also spend quality time with the children. I’ve learned to juggle writing with fishing trips. I’ve become “better than average” when it comes to balancing my work in advocating with my pleasure of parenting. Lucky for me, the opportunity to combine work and play presented itself last week.

My parents still live in the house that I was raised in and, fortunately for all of us, it is only about 25 minutes away from where my family lives now. Last week, since our schedules all happened to coincide, the kids and I arranged to go to lunch with them. My folks are very cognizant of Cam’s condition and what “sets him off” but they still deferred the choice of where we should eat to me. I immediately knew where we were going. There was a restaurant that we had visited just once since Cam was diagnosed and I wanted to go back to it again. That day presented us the perfect opportunity to return to Red Robin.

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Red Robin is consistently chosen as one of the top allergy friendly chain restaurants in the United States. It has been touted by allergy web sites, bloggers, parents, etc. The one time that we had gone to Red Robin since Cam was diagnosed was an awesome experience. We were given a menu binder with the choices that he could have and, most importantly, he didn’t experience any symptoms of being “glutened” after eating there. Recently, based on this one visit and the reviews that I had read during my own research, I recommended Red Robin to friends of ours who were looking for a safe place to eat for their children who, unfortunately, have a variety of food allergies. But after providing this recommendation, I questioned myself for giving “expert” information after only one personal visit. What if we were just fortunate enough to go to a location that happened to be having a good day? How can I recommend a chain restaurant for gluten intolerance when I had only been to a single store? I knew that we had to go back and provide our own, honest review.

I was going to write this review in the style of “Pros vs. Cons” but after our experience during this visit and our past trip to Red Robin, the blog would have read like a commercial for the restaurant. The positives of our meal far outweighed the negatives (in fact, the negatives almost seem nit-picky). The Red Robin chain obviously knows what it is doing when it comes to catering to the needs of specific diets and food allergies. I had my worries when we arrived though. When mentioning Cam’s Celiac and the need for a gluten free menu, the hostess seemed taken aback. We were all seated and we patiently waited for the hostess to bring us something similar to the binder that we had received at the other location during our previous visit. I watched her criss-cross the restaurant a couple of times before she finally approached one of the managers, who happened to be sitting in a booth behind us running receipts and sales numbers. After receiving her instructions, the hostess came back with this.

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If you want to win over a 13 year old boy’s heart at a restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) hand him an iPad. If you want to win over his dad, have that iPad contain ingredient information and pull up safe menu items based on interactive feedback. It was quite impressive. And the chances to be impressed kept on coming. From the option to get a gluten free bun, to our waitresses understanding that Cam’s fries would need to be made in a dedicated fryer, to watching her immediately convey this information to the kitchen staff, Red Robin has obviously done their homework when it comes to staff training and food allergens. My only other concern during our meal was when another manager brought the food to our table. He was not our regular server nor was he the manager who was made aware of our dietary needs when we asked for the special menu. From our experiences when eating at restaurants, the gluten free plate is usually served to us first or separate from the other entrees altogether. There are often gloves used during this process to avoid the possible cross-contamination. Neither happened when this manager brought out our food. He was not wearing gloves and he did touch two other plates, both which contained flour buns, before using those same hands to serve Cam’s. When things like this happen, my dad radar goes off. Cam also noticed what had happened but he put any fears aside and ate his meal. I’m happy to say that he had no ill-effects later that day. Again, it’s nit-picky and maybe (hopefully) that manager washed his hands prior to serving us but the action raised our eyebrows.

What really is the most important part of this visit, though, is that Cam enjoyed himself. So many times when he goes out to eat, his choices are limited. Red Robin, through their diligence in training and educating themselves to other’s special dietary needs, has given him another “comfort” place to go to. Here’s hoping that others follow their lead. For if they do, we’ll make sure that it’s a place of many happy returns from our family.

 

 

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Why Am I Special?

As many of my frequent readers know, I have been advocating the Celiac lifestyle for the past five months; bringing it to the attention of those that I am lucky enough to have listen to me. For this post, though, I felt that it was time for me to jump off of the gluten-free soap box. A time for me to step back from being a voice in the battle against cross-contamination in restaurants. Yes, it is time for me to do what the majority of people use social media for; to brag about my kids. I looked at my Facebook page last weekend and, if you remove all of the advertisements that are being forced upon us, I would take a guess that at least half of the posts from my friends involved their children. From kids playing softball to kids making travel teams to kids having first communion, our society is putting out a lot of propaganda concerning our offspring. And rightfully so. We’re proud of what our kids do and want to provide them everything that we can to help them succeed later in their lives when we’re not going to be there for them on a daily basis. Thinking of Cam’s future is one of the reasons that I have become passionate about advocating and spreading the word about his condition. But there’s another time for that. As I stated, I’m writing today as a proud parent.

Cam is our “quiet” kid. He’s very meticulous in thinking things through before taking action. Sometimes he requires a little push to get things going but once he gets that momentum, he can take on just about any challenge that we present to him. So, when I read a post on Twitter that Rudi’s Gluten Free bakery was sponsoring a “Happy Camper” contest, I gave Cam a nudge. At various summer camp sites throughout the country, there are gluten-free weeks where chefs bring in the food on a daily basis and ensure that the meals are safe for the campers with this dietary need. Rudi’s was giving away 10 scholarships in the United States for gluten free and Celiac kids to attend one of these camps. The only rule of entry was for the camper to compose an essay no longer than 100 words on the topic “Why Am I Special?” When I first read about these gluten-free camps, I immediately thought about what a great opportunity this would be for Cam to meet other kids who are going through the same thing that he is. He loves to go camping and here would be a place where he could do something that he enjoys and not have to worry about his food for an entire week. My wife and I had looked into these camps before we knew about the Rudi’s contest so the opportunity to try for a scholarship was too good to pass up. But, the decision to enter was not up to us. It was up to Cam. He would be the one who would have to feel comfortable in an environment away from the “safe foods” at home. He would be the one going to a place where he would need to interact and “live with” unknown kids for an entire week. I had my reservations about whether or not he would pursue this chance. Much to our delight, our meticulous kid didn’t even think twice about it.

But then there was the essay. Could you address yourself and describe “Why Am I Special” in 100 words or less? Readers of my 1,000+ word blogs know that I couldn’t do it. How do you make yourself stand out in a space limited to a paragraph? I sat down with Cam and asked him to throw out some ideas on what he could write about. What he came up with was what made him unique; his Celiac Disease. Being the only person in his school with Celiac made him special among his peer group; the one who could make his friends (and his teachers) more aware of this auto-immune response that affects 3 million people in the United States. He used this position of a role model as the template for his essay. After submitting the essay through the Rudi’s Facebook page, I let Cam know how proud I was of him. He was putting himself out there, wanting to share his story and embracing what has become such a major part of his every day life. He’s always been special to my wife and I and now he was showing others why we feel that way. In hindsight, when we received an e-mail from Rudi’s four weeks later, I shouldn’t have been as surprised.

Just yesterday, I finished submitting all of the forms for Cam’s week long trip to Camp Kanata in Wake, North Carolina. When he won, we had a choice of five camps that he could attend. When he saw that the Gluten Intolerance Group’s sponsored week at Camp Kanata was located in North Carolina, the choices were narrowed to one. We often vacation in Carolina and we have family there so him wanting to go to Kanata was almost a given.  He’ll be there at the end of the summer and he’s already counting down the days. If his experience is as wonderful as my conversations have been with the Rudi’s representatives and the staff at Camp Kanata, he is in for what will be a special life memory. Basketball courts, fishing, swimming, canoeing…you name it and it’s there. No electronics, no worries about the food he is going to eat, no more wondering where all of the other “special” kids are. They’ll be there with him, each of them sharing an unseen bond. Each of them able to share their experiences with other kids just like them.

My only regret through this whole process has been that we did not keep a copy of Cam’s essay (where can I pick up my Father of the Year award?). We know the generalities of what he wrote and, when thinking about it, that’s good enough. Anyone who has met Cam doesn’t need 100 words to remind them of why he is a special kid. His proud parents included.

Kanata