Local Food Brands Offer Recipes for Success
How NC entrepreneurs are making small food brands big businessBy Wendy Perry | Photos by Wendy Perry
Having the entrepreneur gene is both a blessing and a curse.
I hear my sweet Mama’s voice in my head often, when she looked at me once years ago, during the middle of a crazy catered event, elbow deep in soap suds washing chafing pans. She said: “Just what makes you want to do this right here!?”
Bless her sweet soul. “Mama,” I said, “I just don’t know, and can’t help myself! I got it from Daddy.”
There are scores of food artisans around North Carolina who “just can’t help themselves,” bringing the best of the best into the marketplace. Here’s the story of four, and their recipes for success.
Little Black Dressing Company
Strolling through your grocery store produce section, if you’ve not found it yet, take a closer look and see if you find some Little Black Dressing Co. salad dressings. Winning both NC and national awards and accolades, LBD is one of North Carolina’s best-kept secrets.
These delicious dressings are tucked on the chilled produce shelf since they are made fresh, refrigerated and shipped that way right into the store. You won’t find a lot of “stuff” in them either (no preservatives, additives, and they’re gluten-free).
Creator and “head salad dressing maker” Kissie Stroup knows a thing or two about taking a family recipe from home to market from her days growing up with her Grandma Nana’s delicious vinaigrette on fresh-from-the-garden salads. Nana made her dressing for school and church gatherings, and Kissie wanted to share it with others. She started making the dressing and selling in small batches in 2008. In 2013, her husband said: “Instead of selling dressing to friends from our porch, let’s do this thing.”
“I was fortunate my husband was supportive, and I had this opportunity to make dressing, contribute to my family and give back to my community,” Kissie adds.
Her first dressing was a tweak of Nana’s, Dreamy Creamy Vinaigrette. From there, she added others and her company was born. Little Black Dressing Co. has grown, is sold across America, and offers private labeling too. And the name? “Well, like a good little black dress, it goes with everything!”
Little Black Dressing Company
Kissie’s Recipe for Success
“Tenacity. And willingness to work hard. My business model was slow, calculated and paid as I went along to avoid debt. It has proven to work for me and that’s my best advice!”
Mimi’s Mountain Mixes
As soon as you meet Lin Johnson-Carlson, you just need to know more about this spunky grandmother of 12!
Years ago, her grandkids started calling her Mimi, so it was only fitting she name her company Mimi’s Mountain Mixes.
Here’s how her recipes work: Just open a box, stir in a beer or other carbonated beverage, and after a few short minutes of baking you are enjoying any one of her simply prepared products. Along with her Old Tavern Beer Bread Mix, there are biscuits, soft pretzels, cakes, pancakes and more, including some gluten-free goodies, too.
Mimi’s was launched in 2008, when Lin found herself divorced, in big debt and facing foreclosure like so many others during the recession. Bouncing from friends’ homes to homes, and even time in a shelter, Lin didn’t let her spirit and desire to move forward keep her down, finding the blessings in her time of despair.
Taking inspiration from her Grandma Ruth, she was able to borrow church kitchens in Florida and Ohio, where she got busy creating her mixes. With her recipe laced with optimism, she worked tirelessly out and about at flea and farmers’ markets, turning things around, while developing a following of loyal customers — all the while, giving back to help other women who found themselves in similar situations.
Mimi's Mountain Mixes
Lin’s Recipe for Success
“Keep that chin UP! Take every blessing and multiply it. Mimi’s Mountain Mixes continues to offer a step up for women who are in shoes Lin has worn, and with each purchase of her products, customers are helping her and this mission.“
You read that right — Alan Bundy’s pecan shop is in the town of Turkey, in Sampson County. It’s worth your while to get off onto the backroads and see what you come across there.
Alan’s little gem of a shop awaits you, just a bit off Interstate 40 on Highway 24.
Alan’s father, Navy Captain Bobby F. Bundy, established a pecan grove in 1981 and later started B&B Pecan Processors of NC. Alan has taken the farm and the processor to new places. The pecans, grown there in Turkey, are processed locally and shipped around the world. They can be found in more than 140 major grocery store chains, smaller boutiques and are available for fundraising events.
After B&B Pecans launched back in the ’90s, their now famous “Elizabeth’s Exceptional Pecan Brittle” (named after Alan’s daughter) came along in 1998. Different from most, this buttery brittle is a soft-crunchy, making it easy to eat and their biggest seller. Since then, Alan has added more tasty pecan products, for a total of 14 roasty toasty pecan treats for Elizabeth’s fans.
Elizabeth’s has a quaint little shop by the railroad tracks in Turkey, where folks from all over the country (and world) drop by to sample most all of their pecan treats. Storekeeper Anita will graciously offer them to you, and wow, does that lady love her job! She can tell you all sorts of things about their pecans, the company and all the many other local products there in the store, including many from veteran owned companies.
Alan’s Recipe for Success
Alan focuses on maximizing ideas and resources that continue to produce the best handmade products his customers love and enjoy.
1 in 6 Snacks
When you’re raised in a home where your family is in the snack business, what do you do when you grow up? Why, you jump right in with the family. The snack family.
While still a fulltime agri-business management student at NC State University, Josh Monahan started working on his first product in 2015, potato chips. It was then he realized 1 in 6 people in the United States don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. He knew right away that would be the flagship name of his product and his brand: 1 in 6 Snacks.
Launched in 2016, his first product line (and perhaps most familiar) was Carolina Kettle. These flavorful “outrageously crunchy” chips start with the best potatoes, kettle fried in small batches with sunflower oil, and uniquely seasoned with Carolina herbs and spices. Oh, and they’re preservative- and gluten-free too.
With a dozen tasty chip varieties now being made, Carolina Kettle’s most popular are Sea Salt and Down East Carolina BBQ (Josh’s favorite is “Southern Twang” salt and balsamic vinegar). Newcomers to the 1 in 6 Snacks family include: Pine State Popcorn, Rustic Roots tortilla chips and salsas, and Memaw’s Country Kitchen cookies and cheese tiddies.
1 in 6 Snacks
Josh’s Recipe for Success
Giving back. "Our customers appreciate our philosophy and that we set aside donations from every bag of chips we sell towards entities that help feed those 1 in 6 looking for their next meal. When seeing that on our bags, that helps customers make a purchase decision while [the bags] are in their hands."
Cooking up Success with Your Small Brand
Hungry for more business tips? Take a look at the five ingredients in a recipe for success from our recipe contributor and NC food entrepreneur, Wendy Perry.