Specialty Food Magazine

SUMMER 2015

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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"Every single time I was in her house I went to that red- and-white checkered cookbook," Barrett recalls. The easy-to-follow instructions helped her to learn a repertoire of traditional Southern dishes. Breakfast was first, a medley of pancakes, eggs, bacon, grits. Then came pork chops, scalloped potatoes, green beans, and mac and cheese. She could make supper for her family by the time she was 12. Starting so young, she almost took her cooking skills for granted. Culinary school? What for? At Clark Atlanta University, Barrett was working toward a business degree. She graduated in 2004 and commenced a career in human resources. Cooking remained a hobby. "I had confidence but had never been judged by people outside of my friends and family," she says. "I thought I might be onto something and wanted validation that I was actually as good as I say I was." Early Approval Five years ago, newly married to college sweetheart Andre Barrett, she told him she wanted to get into the food business. She reconsid- ered culinary school, but spending $90,000 on tuition for a chef job with a starting salary of $30,000 didn't make economic sense. When Andre found an online contest co-sponsored by the Food Network and Lea & Perrins, he told his wife she had nothing to lose. It took her five days to come up with a recipe for crunchy Asian pork tacos using Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce. The homemade video they submitted of her composing the tacos earned her a spot as one of six finalists. Votes from friends, family, and col- leagues put her over the top for the $10,000 jackpot. Barrett put the money toward paying off her student loans and credit card debt. While it did not catapult her into the specialty food industry, it gave her internal strength. "It changed everything for me," she says. Taking her talents more seriously, she began catering events in addition to her fulltime job. The fit was not perfect. "It was tough for every event," she admits, "each one having a different timeline for cooking, calculat- ing food costs." Opening a restaurant was tempting. Too risky, Andre warned. The failure rate was too high. A trip to the grocery store proved to be Barrett's aha moment. The number of aisles devoted to novel snack and dinner items dwarfed what was available in the breakfast aisles, which was domi- nated by cereals and breakfast bars. As far as she could tell, there were no compelling, modern, ready-to-cook options for what she had in mind. "Breakfast was the forgotten meal," she says. "I didn't see what I was looking for, so I created it myself." Her creation: Shortstacks Pancake & Waff le Mix, in f lavors like vanilla, bourbon salted pecan, and banana pudding, using superior ingredients that were at least 90 percent organic. Going Professional In 2011, Barrett founded her company, Southern Culture Artisan Foods, with $5,000 she had managed to save. She took her products to Atlanta area farmers markets—and got rejected by all of them. Boxcar Grocer in Atlanta gave the business its first shot, putting Shortstacks on the shelves in 2012. After that, four local Whole Foods Markets quickly signed on. In addition to consumers loving her pancake mixes, Barrett heard a lot of, Why didn't I think of that? "The idea was so simple," she says, surprised herself that there was room for new products in the most-important-meal-of-the-day category. Her next breakfast concept was so simple even she didn't think of it at first. Doing a demonstration of her pancake and waff le mixes at a Williams- Sonoma shop in a mall, she seasoned up some bacon to cook along with it. "People love the smell of bacon and I wanted to do some- thing that would attract them to my table," she says. "Making bacon wasn't the plan." The bacon trick worked better than she'd expected, luring droves of shoppers to try her pancakes. Half of the tasters asked producer profile ERICA BARRETT Age: 32 Years in specialty food: 3 Favorite food: Rib-eye steak Least favorite food: Frog legs Last thing I ate and loved: A rib-eye steak If I weren't in the food business I'd be: Back what I was doing before, a human resources generalist. One piece of advice I'd give to a new food business: Gain as much education as possible in the specialty food business so you can set yourself up for success. Today, more than 3,000 stores nationwide carry Southern Culture Artisan Foods, and Barrett expects to be in 4,000 outlets by the end of 2015. 106 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com

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