International chef and chocolatier Joel Eliaz co-owns a school in Venezuela where he specializes in teaching the art of cooking and baking. In 2005, Eliaz was invited to promote a new summer cooking camp offered by his school on a radio show in Venezuela. After the show, the mother of a child living with autism asked if Eliaz could teach her how to bake gluten-free bread, since she was told gluten had a negative effect on her child's chemistry and affected his behavior.

"That was the first time I had heard the term [gluten-free]," Eliaz said. "At first I wondered why you would want to make bread without the ingredient that makes it bread, but I began to research gluten-free cooking and its benefits."

Eliaz said he soon realized there was very little available in terms of gluten-free food that still had the flavors he was used to cooking with.

"I realized I could do something to help the community," he said. "So I started offering classes."

In September 2013, Eliaz and his niece Beatriz Acosta—a law student turned pastry chef—opened Xoco-latt in Missouri City in an effort to become an established business not only to the gluten-free community, but to everyone with a sweet tooth.

"When we moved [to Missouri City], there was no question about what we wanted to do," Eliaz said. "I've never liked the hectic downtown vibe. I like the suburbs where you get to know your neighbors and customers—not as transactions, but as friends. I like Missouri City because it is pushing and wants business to grow at a reasonable pace."

Xoco-latt's menu has continued to expand on its selections of cookies, cakes, breads, and more recently, specialty chocolates.

"We try to provide items we know everyone will like," Eliaz said. "You have to keep all of the customers in mind when you are designing our chocolates and other items. We hear kids say to their parents when they come in, 'Can I really have anything here?' and that makes us very proud of what we are doing."

Eliaz, who studied to become a chocolatier in Barcelona, Spain, said he makes an effort to use distinctive ingredients ranging from his secret seven-spice blend to using habaneros to bring different flavors to his customers.

"The rules of cooking are there to learn, but they are also there to break once you know how to use them," Eliaz said. "I like to mix my chocolate to achieve a specific taste."

Eliaz and his team sell their treats individually to walk-in customers but also sell gift items, and the bakery has seen an increased demand for catering services for parties and weddings.

"You can customize anything here to meet your needs," said Acosta, who decided to pursue her passion for baking instead of a career in law. "We have learned so many things about the local market. One thing we try to offer our customers is local ingredients, [and] we are interested in helping the community with our specialized items."

Filling the order

When Joel Eliaz moved to Missouri City, he decided to use his skills as an international chef to help answer the needs of his new community.

"I came here and saw so little available to the gluten-free world," Eliaz said. "The gluten-free community has not been receiving what they need."

Eliaz opened Xoco-latt in mid-2013 to bring a full menu of gluten-free items to the public.

"We become part of their family because we are baking for them personally," he said.

Living gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in most kinds of wheat and grains. Many people have a strong sensitivity to gluten products, especially those living with celiac disease—an estimated 1 in 141 people in the nation, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Gluten can attack the immune system of an individual with a gluten allergy and cause serious nutritional deficiencies and digestive issues.

Gluten-free foods can still be high in calories, fat and carbohydrates, but several studies from the British Journal of Psychiatry and the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom show that living gluten-free can help reduce the effects of disorders, such as autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

4719 Lexington Blvd.

Missouri City 832-243-6748


Hours: Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–6 p.m.,

Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Closed Sundays