After several years working as a chef, Mike Vitelli decided to follow a dream to do his own thing. That’s when Lake Lure-based Eat Pique was born. “As a chef, I love to play with unique flavor combinations and present them in ways that ‘pique’ one’s interest,” he says, while explaining his business name. “I wanted to create a fun company doing cool things and make eating exciting.” What he’s come up with may not be immediately understood by his customers, but he enjoys educating people about the versatility of his Honey Pickled Mustard Seeds. (go HERE to return to the Sweet & Savory main page)
“It’s a new concept to a lot of folks,” he says. “What I tell people is the seeds really enhance other flavors. They don’t compete. They’re real pretty and a nice topper for any dish. Use them on grilled or sautéed vegetables and finish meats on the grill. It’s just a nice condiment.”
There are currently three varieties: Session Wheat Honey Pickled Mustard Seeds (created using Sierra Nevada’s session wheat beer), Habanero Heat, and Bopp’N Beet.
This is Eat Pique’s first year in business, and Mike has devoted his focus to serving customers at area tailgate markets. “We’ve now introduced our cheese spreads under the name Spread Head. They go hand in hand with the mustard seeds.
“We started with two flavors. The first is an Everything Bagel cheese spread, which is a nod to my very first job at a bagel shop. It opens eyes. People are shocked and surprised when they see it and try it. It’s a conversation piece and it’s delicious to boot. We use a naturally aged cheddar, Duke’s mayonnaise, onion, garlic, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds. The second is a spicy cheese spread. This one came about because I met Janelle, the owner of Our Daily Kraut, at the East Asheville Tailgate Market. I tried her stuff and loved her Kick It Up Hot Sauce. I brought some home and made a cheese spread with it. I took some to her and she loved it. We decided to team up on that one. It’s not too spicy. It’s kind of just right with medium heat.”
He’s set up regular booths at the West Asheville Tailgate Market, the Flat Rock Tailgate Market, and the East Asheville Tailgate Market, as well as special events like the Garlic Festival and Hendersonville’s Apple Festival. In addition, Eat Pique products are in West Village Market in West Asheville, Dogwood in Flat Rock, and Manna Cabanna Local Organic Market in Tryon.
He’ll also be involved with several upcoming holiday markets: Winterfest in Flat Rock on December 2; West Asheville Holiday Market at the Mothlight on December 5, 12, and 19; and the East Asheville Holiday Market on December 15. He sells 9-ounce glass jars of the mustard seeds for $8 and 8-ounce tubs of the cheese spreads for $6.
He especially loves connecting with people at tailgate markets: “It takes you back to a time before technology. You have real conversations with people in your neighborhood.”
At the same time, he knows having an online presence and utilizing social media is key to growing his business. One challenge he has in terms of gaining online sales is that his products require refrigeration: “I’m working on UPS on different ways to ship it. The biggest hurdle is the cost aspect. They are in glass jars, which are heavy. The cost of shipping can be prohibitive to our customers, but it’s a service we want to provide.”
Currently, Mike produces his products in a shared-use kitchen in Tryon, but he is working toward a goal of opening his own facility and expanding his product line.
Originally from Greensboro, Mike trained as a chef at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. He went on to earn a hospitality/management degree from Western Carolina University. His wife, Molly, grew up spending summers at Lake Lure. “She came to me one day and said she wanted to move up here,” he says.
“She ended up getting a job at the Lodge on Lake Lure and I got a job at Rumbling Bald Resort. About six months into it, I heard the chef was leaving the Lodge at Lake Lure and I got the job. I was there a couple of years. That’s how I found the local markets up here. I would source a lot of ingredients from tailgate markets and farms. I made a lot of great connections there.”
He’s currently working on four new varieties of cheese spreads and focuses on just having fun and not taking himself too seriously. In the first year, he’s extremely pleased with the progress he’s made and the positive response he gets from customers when they taste his products.
“We’ve built a little bit of a cult following,” he says.
Visit Eat Pique online to see where Vitelli will be next at www.eatpique.com.
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