Taking My Food Hobby to Market
For me, my food hobby goes back to my post-toddler days. It started when I was about three years old, enjoying delicious biscuits with Mrs. Mumford, the lady that babysat me. The biscuits were not healthy, fluffy or large. These golden pillows brushed with butter on the top, were made with bacon drippings. and made fresh each morning for Mr. Mumford.
Mrs. Mumford and I would have our biscuits each morning before we started our day, and after Mr. M left for work. I had my biscuit with a tiny class of ice cold milk and she had a cup of coffee, black, no sugar. It was our time, it was magical.
Jump forward a year and my next out of body experience with food came when my mom made Danish Pastry. She learned from a neighbor who was from the Virgin Islands. The pastry was always made in early spring when the weather was cool and dry.
If you’ve never tasted homemade Danish Pastry you’re in for a treat. It is rarely made here in the South. I suppose the humidity and hot weather stops a lot of bakers. Along with the fact it is expensive and time consuming to make. Using one pound of butter is the only true way to make my moms recipe, plus it takes two days.
The most intriguing thing about Danish Pastry is the fillings. prune, peach, strawberry, grape, apricot and pecan raisin. Fillings you rarely see today. I’m not talking about store bought stuff, remember back in the day folks canned. I still have a copy of the Allsweet Danish Pastry recipe booklet. This pastry is fit for a queen. sweet, flaky, buttery and down-right delicious.
Fast forward to the mid-1960s, my parents owned a Beer and Wine/convenience store. And instead of going to work in the store, I volunteered to prepare dinner for the family each night. Mercy… I was in heaven. One of my favorite meals was a Chicken and Rice dish made with a packet of dry sherry. It was a prepared box with rice, seasonings and a small pouch of dry sherry. Okay, it wasn’t scratch, but it was fancy!
This was one of my dad’s favorite meals. I had to sauté the strips of chicken with onions and peppers, add the seasoning packet, water, and dry sherry. I knew I was the next Julia Child. Cooking was my passion, but not something that was a suitable career choice. After graduating from high school, I went off to the University of Michigan. Two years later transferred to Wayne State University and decided in my senior year to join the Navy.
My first assignment while in basic training… the Mess Hall making huge vats of salad for the new recruits. Mercy, I’m back in my element.
A self-taught cook
You might think I would become a cook in the Navy. Nope. Uncle Sam wanted me to work in an office as a Technical Librarian. I didn’t jump into the frying pan again until the late 1970s when I deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. I lived in the city for nine months before moving on base.
It was a glorious time. I bought fresh fish and produce and learned about the local culture. I even had a chance to write a food column for the base newspaper.
Then, one day my husband walked in the door with a cookbook that would change my life forever. The Creative Cooking Course Edited by Charlotte Turgeon feed my passion. I started in Section 1 General Information and worked my way through. Remember this was a Cooking Course in Book form.
It took three years and a few months to go through the cookbook. I would create a menu for at least 3-4 days of the week and my hubby would invite his basketball buddies over to taste. I knew I was on to something when one of his friends came over for dinner and the next day sent me one dozen red roses. Mercy! Yes, hubby was jealous, and the young man never dined with us again.
Returning stateside came with its own set of problems. My marriage ended, and I was a single mom trying to survive. A generous gift from my grandmother laid the foundation for my catering business. I eventually took my cooking gig on the road and became a Personal Chef of sorts. Finally able to showcase my baking skills, I took every opportunity to make my signature Five Flavor Pound Cake and Sweet Potato Pie.
I returned to school for my Masters, worked part-time, but that didn’t pay the bills. Finally, I took a fulltime job as a social worker, baking on the side. I caught a break when a local television anchor was at an event where my desserts were featured. She asked if could style food for a celebrity chef and of course my I could. Incidentally, I had never worked as a food stylist, but this was a great time to start, right?
Life Takes A Turn
In 2005 my life took a radical turn. I got the bright idea to leave Michigan and move to a warmer climate. No one at work could believe it. I was a city girl, tired of the snow and sleet. I researched looking for the best place to live in the South and settled on Cary, North Carolina.
Upon getting settled in Cary, I visited the Raleigh Farmers’ Market. Folks were selling baked goods, jams, vinegar and a host of other artisanal foods. I started asking around about how I could get a stall at the farmers market. The answer… the North Carolina Cottage Food Rule. With my products approved by the NCDACS and my kitchen inspected, it was time to bake.
In early Spring of 2007, I found myself selling pies and cookies at the Raleigh Farmers’ Market. My location was under the Craft Shed, as a result of my lack of business experience sales were dismal, and guerrilla tactics were necessary. I started spreading flyers everywhere. Sadly that didn’t work either.
***Today the NCDA & CS has a committed web page of information on starting a home-based food business.
As I passed out business cards and flyers, orders started trickling in. Then I had an epiphany. First I would document my journey. Second, start writing a blog called HomebasedBaking.com. Last, I would share my knowledge with other food crafters in the community.
In late 2007 through early 2008 I continued to blog. I wrote a course proposal. My goal, to teach a course titled Profits from Your Kitchen, How to Start a Home-based Bakery. The Wake County Public School Lifelong Learning Program gave me an opportunity. My class was in session. Abraham Palmer, the owner of Boxed Turtle Bakery, one of my first students still sells artisanal bread. He’s never looked back.
By now I’m teaching and writing a blog. The blog offered tips and strategies for operating a home-based bakery business. I posted recipes, marketing strategies, even addressed the various struggles experienced by home-based bakers.
In August 2009, Globe Pequot Press called. “We’d like you to write a book based on your blog.” Are you interested? Heck “YES.” It took over a year and on Jan. 11, 2011 the book launched. The journey was tough. I was doing all this at the height of the cottage food boom. Commercial bakeries around the country were not happy with cottage food bakers. Boy did I have haters, and folks not happy with a book sharing the 411 on starting a home-based bakery business.
I persisted. My family business background reminded me that everybody has got to start somewhere. Why not the home kitchen? That’s where I learned to bake Danish Pastry at the ripe old age of four.
Turning a hobby into a business is nothing short of a miracle. It’s hard work and if you’re a mom and pop, or mom or pop shop, the struggle is real.
I have been chipping away and teaching food entrepreneurs how to take their products to market for ten years. This is my life work. Anyone who wants to start a business should be able to and the information they need should be available. If you need a bit of hand holding, that should be available too.
Fast forward to today, and you’re here reading about my journey. I am the founder and lead instructor for Foodpreneur Institute. My goal is to support those folks who want to turn their hobby, family recipe, and dream into a real business. My dad was a social butterfly. He had no problem getting information and learning from those who had the knowledge.
Everyone is not that fortunate. The goal of the Foodpreneur Institute to be an educations hub for food entrepreneurs and be a no-judgment zone.
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