These are a few local snack and gift makers that we thought we should share with you…even if we did keep all of the samples for ourselves.
Fresh From the North Carolina Coast
Nothing tastes quite like it: seafood straight from the ocean. But when you live miles away from the coast, like we do here in Asheville, the chances of getting really fresh seafood are slim. It just has to be frozen. Wrong, so wrong. We are in luck. Brian Hepler started by fishing all week on his boat, Caddylack, near Wilmington, NC. Now other fishermen bring their catch to him for his business. Traps are set; clams are dug; and oysters are harvested. He then drives a truckload of this just caught seafood to Western North Carolina. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
“You can purchase the Cape Fear Coast Seafood on Fridays and Saturdays–until the catch runs out– at the Trout Lily Healthy Market on Highway 74A in Fairview. There is always a wide variety of items–shrimp, scallops, oysters, crab, plus all kinds of fish, such as grouper, flounder, mahi-mahi, trigger fish, and hog nose snapper, depending on what is caught that week. In fact trigger fish, which is a flaky and sweet fish, has become a big hit in Asheville. Seventeen pounds of trigger fish were once sold in two hours. Hog nose snapper, which only feeds on crab, is also very popular and also very sweet. Cape Fear Coast Seafood finds it difficult to keep up with demand for both.
“This seafood endeavor began approximately eight years ago, almost by accident. Brian just brought a cooler full of shrimp from the coast and decided to sell it, tailgating on Swannanoa River Road across from the Shell station. His stand was amazingly busy. Customers were thrilled to find and buy this fresh caught fish. So he continued and then expanded, eventually moving further toward Fairview. In a small blue house near Reynolds, they opened the business in 2006 with indoor space. All his family pitched in to help–weighing, wrapping, selling and keeping everything fresh and clean. His customers ranted and raved, loving the fresh seafood. They started asking for specific items to be brought up for the following weekend.”
As gas prices rose, the length of the journey seemed to grow longer. The winter months seemed particularly grueling, and the economy had a lot of problems. Brian began to have doubts about continuing in a business with so many tough demands. Partially because his young sons needed him more on the coast, he decided to open a wholesale/retail business on Market Street in Wilmington itself. Now what about the Asheville business? Well, as much as he wanted to wind the operation down, his customers absolutely insisted that he come up with another solution. They called and e-mailed him, pleading with him to stay. They loved and wanted his fresh seafood here in Asheville. There was great demand for his product in this area.
“Perhaps Brian could get a truck driver to bring the seafood to Asheville, without raising the prices too much? Or perhaps he could be met halfway here on the highway? Sue at Trout Lily Healthy Market suggested that the seafood could be sold on her porch, which would cut down on overhead. So hip hip hooray, the customers won the battle. The truckload of fresh seafood is arriving each weekend. Brian’s brother Matthew, his mom Vonnie, and his grandmother Helen continue to work and sell on the porch of the Trout Lily each weekend, year round. A newsletter goes out to customers, telling them what will be on the next shipment. If you want to get a copy, just go to www.capefearseafood.com to sign up or call (828) 298-0035 to place an order. If you haven’t found this seafood stand before, this is a discovery well worth knowing about. Cape Fear Coast Seafood is open year round Friday’s 11 – 6; and Saturdays 10 – until they are sold out. You won’t be disappointed.
A Healthy Gourmet Cracker —Made Locally
A delicious cracker can make a difference in the flavor and presentation of your holiday hors d’oeuvres. It shouldn’t break too easily; it shouldn’t be too large or too small; and the flavor should not overpower the taste of what you are offering your guests. We now have a wonderful source for such a product here in Asheville: the Roots & Branches quality cracker. Perhaps at a local tailgate market you have sampled them–possibly with goat cheese, hummus, or a new seafood dip? The small squares are notably the perfect bite size and the flavor does not overpower the spread. The Roots & Branches artisan crackers are often used on sampler trays by many local companies.
Clark and Ana Mitchell have narrowed down their selection to only five flavors, which are considered their best sellers: plain Olive Oil, Black Pepper and Olive Oil, Rosemary and Olive Oil, Sesame Seed & Olive Oil, and Herb Garden. Once in a while they have featured another exotic flavor, which unfortunately is usually more labor intensive–such as Tomato Olive or Kalamata Olive–so as the business has grown considerably in the last year, they are thinning down the line by concentrating on only five flavors. This month they are in the process of changing to an artfully designed box, which is well sealed inside–for better protection and easier shipping.
These quality crackers are made with virgin Olive Oil and the best of flours, King Arthur, and sea salt–going light and easy on the salt. This was Clark’s own original combination of ingredients that grew out of his focaccia recipe. Much to his amazement he thought it tasted good from the very start and only needed a little “tweaking.” He finds that “these crackers really fit into the gourmet category, although the ingredients make it a healthy vegan item, found in organic and health food stores.”
This is definitely a labor intensive business. Currently the company is having trouble keeping up with demand. The crackers are hand rolled, hand cut and evenly baked in small batches in Swannanoa. Approximately four to five workers are employed in all aspects of the operation in the approximately 2,500 square foot bakery. There are now four ovens with multiple racks used to fill the incoming orders, and there is an air-conditioned room to keep the crackers fresh before delivery. Ana Mitchell oversees the preparation, the baking, and the packaging, while Clark focuses on sales and deliveries, which he makes in their new van.
So how did all this come about? Three years ago, Clark and Ana sold their beloved restaurant, The Twisted Tree Cafe, in New Jersey, and decided to come to the Western North Carolina area. So what should they do? Start another restaurant? Maybe, maybe not. At first, they experimented with making and selling pastries, bread, granola, granola bars and even breadsticks at local markets. But due to the amazing success of their crackers, they have decided to concentrate on this one item and produce it in quantity. It can be considered a niche sale, but something every household needs fairly regularly. Clark sees a large incremental growth spurt ahead. The business in his words, “is getting ready to ramp up again. Growth seems to come in major chunks, and I am gearing up for one now.”
You can find these crackers at most of the local tailgate markets, Asheville City Market Downtown and South, The Black Mountain Tailgate Market, as well as at a few gourmet shops and specialty stores, such as Earth Fare or The Trout Lily in Fairview. The price of one 7 oz. package runs from $4.00 to $5.00. With the festive holiday season near, it is a perfect addition to your appetizer tray. Do look for it at tailgate markets. Look for the new packaging labeled Roots & Branches. It will complement your chosen spread, is healthy, will add to the taste, and is made locally.
Shooting Star Jewelry – A Family Team
Not many mothers are lucky enough to have their daughter start her own business at the age of 10. This is what happened to Elizabeth Etheridge when she gave her daughter, Amelia, a few beads and some jewelry making equipment. The next thing you know Amelia made some attractive plastic bracelets, so popular today with teenagers. A little later Milly needed some extra spending money, so she and her friend Chelsea started showing and selling them to the neighbors. They came home within a few hours with $45. A few of her schoolmates bought some items for Christmas gifts for their mothers. The jewelry was a hit and profitable! The greatest news came later when she told her mother that she was going to give some of the profits to the Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund. Now Mom really hit the jackpot—she has both a creative and a generous daughter.”
Today the business has grown considerably. The mother and daughter go to trade shows to buy items, in towns like Spruce Pine and Charlotte. Amelia carefully chooses the beads she wants to include —colorful crystals, turquoise, mother of pearl or even fresh water pearls. As her jewelry is considered a low budget item, she is careful about the price she pays for materials. From these, she designs lovely dangle earrings, necklaces and bracelets for everyday use. Her nine year old brother, Colson, helps make the displays with matching sets. And her Mom jumps in to reproduce the creations in the quantity needed.”
So what about marketing? The jewelry is sold at fairs, such as the Montford Street Festival in the fall and the Grace Episcopal Craft Fair in the spring. A few retail stores, such as Mast General, the Loft, and Winks carry the line and are doing well with it. The idea that this very wearable jewelry is made right here in Asheville by a now 13 year old girl has incredible appeal. And the price is right. This talented young lady is well on her way.
Who knows what the next step will be? Maybe Milly will go to design school or apprentice to a well known jewelry maker? Maybe this is another artist like David Webb in her formative years?? Who knows? But for the moment there is a lot of fun, excitement, and a learning experience found in the family team creating, making, and selling jewelry. Do you by any chance need any earrings, a bracelet, or perhaps a fun fur ring? Or perhaps you would like to host a home show over the holidays with friends. You can reach Elizabeth Etheridge by phone at (828) 712-4356 or at Ebetheridge@gmail.com. Most items sell for under $20. Next time you go shopping, look for Shooting Star Jewelry and be amazed at the artistic creations of a 13 year old girl, who attends Valley Springs School.
Ma Belle France
Ghislaine Mahler loves France, her native country, and delights in the classical dishes they serve. Quiches, fruit tortes, pastries and soups from several regions of France made with fresh local ingredients, are her specialty. Her reputation for fine fare proceeds her. People drive for miles to the Asheville City Market or the tailgate markets in Flat Rock or Biltmore Park to pick up a future meal or dessert for an upcoming party.
She has many varieties of quiches, from the basic Quiche Lorraine to spinach/feta to portabella mushroom to tomato/goat cheese, as well as many soups, such as French lentil, asparagus, or ratatouille. According to Joy Bulluck, a regular customer, “Her pear and plum tortes are just mouth-wateringly delicious.”
Sometimes customers order ahead–perhaps a Reine de Saba, a chocolate and almond cake or a Buche de Noel, the traditional French Christmas Yule Log or sometimes just wedding canopies.
Ghislaine makes sure you know it is “Her Beautiful France” that she is introducing into your life. It is not just La Belle France, The Beautiful France, but Ma Belle France, My Beautiful France. From a very early age she learned cooking at her mother’s side and over the years this hobby grew into an all encompassing business. She moved from Paris to New York City close to 30 years ago, put a small ad on a card at the French Institute, .which was answered by a family on 58th Street. She began preparing a four or five course meal for them regularly. This was just the beginning, with many life turns, including career changes, after that.
Going fast forward, Ghislaine moved to Asheville in January 2010. She feels that the city embraced her immediately. Now besides the local open air markets with her merchandise, she shares her culture by taking small groups (maximum eight people) to France on culinary and cultural adventure tours, showing them France through the eyes of a native. This is not the typical American tour of France but an in-depth cultural trip. Last month she returned from a trip to Paris and Normandy. Just to name a few, the group visited one of the oldest kitchen stores in Paris, the finest Parisian chocolate shops, took cooking classes with Parisian chefs, and once in Normandy for eight days, they discovered the Mont Saint Michel, the beautiful Pays d’Auge, Omaha and Utah beaches, and much more.
Ghislaine also offers half day cooking classes Together eight to ten people prepare a three-course meal–an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. Students come from all over to learn–from Charleston, Charlotte, or even Florida. After the preparation the group sits down to enjoy the meal together. Ghislaine loves teaching teenagers and the younger generation the delights and secrets of French cooking. In addition, Ghislaine offers festive “crepes” parties in someone’s home, for a special event, or she will even cater a party or meal. At the moment she is building a new cooking space, hoping to raise money through www.indiegogo.com/mabellefrance, for a large classroom. She has most of the equipment but needs a larger cooking class area.
Information on Ghislaine Mahler and Ma Belle France can be found at www.MaBelleFrance.com or she can be reached by phone at
A Pound Cake is Just The Ticket
According to Cindy Amiot it doesn’t take long to get a business going. Even though she already had a full time job, she took a giant step to follow a childhood dream and re-ignite her earlier passion to start a baking business. She had cooked by her Mother’s side as a child. Many years later, she remembers her oldest grandson at the age of two saying, “Bake me a ‘Banilla cake.” Now he himself is a chef, and knowing how delicious her baked goods were, encouraged her into taking the plunge–along with other family members. “Cindy makes a delicious pound cake in many flavors: Black Walnut, Double Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry, all under the business name of Penelope’s. Her Black Walnut pound cake, a tall bundt cake shape with more black walnuts than you would expect. The Vanilla Pound cake is known for being particularly moist. The rich Chocolate Pound cake is made from an old family recipe using a very special chocolate. Next Cindy may produce a Red Velvet Cake or breads from her pound cake recipes.
She only uses the best of ingredients —organic flours, fresh eggs, organic milk, real butter from cows that are not fed on antibiotics, sea salt or kosher sea salt. To her that is the secret of success; that is what makes the cakes taste so yummy. In addition she makes cookies —chocolate chip which the kids just love, sugar cookies for various occasions, Moravian ginger cookies, muffins,, and cupcakes. Her cookies can be shaped, perhaps a leaf shape or a pumpkin shape artfully decorated. And there is a variety of flavors of cupcakes —for today’s market there are even cupcakes, or fudge on a stick, brownies, and some lovely fruit pies (cherry, apple, blackberry) that can all be ordered. However she does not do breakfast, birthday or wedding cakes.
A year ago Cindy started. With no advertising, no fliers, and only occasionally attending tailgate markets, street fairs or open air markets, she began selling her pound cakes to friends. The business has just been snowballing. And certainly Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy seasons. People just love to serve them at home, as well as give them as gifts. “Basically this was a hobby that grew into a business. She would work around her full time job at a real estate office. Cindy had to get her kitchen approved by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, who needed to inspect the cooking area. Once she got their approval, the ship set sail. Cindy is always “tweaking a recipe” and keeps trying to improve on the original recipe. What can be added to make it better? Is it moist enough? Does it have enough flavor? She appreciates feedback from her customers. Cindy does suggest that you keep the cake in a covered dish to keep it fresh —although her cakes seldom last very long. So why don’t you try one for Thanksgiving? The Black Walnut is perfect for this time of year. Just call (828) 712-5381 to place an order with Penelope’s. It will take about a week to fill.