Written by Marla Hardee Milling
Localism is alive and thriving in Western North Carolina’s arts & crafts economy this time of year. No one knows that better than the six entrepreneurs profiled here, in our annual “Sweet and Savory” feature. These growing businesses all have one thing in common: They are cottage industries. These folks dare to believe that their passion for innovation and creativity on a small scale could be popular and profitable. The secret to their success is simple: They make great stuff and share it with others, a sentiment at the heart of the holiday season and one we know you’ll want to savor.
Bubbly Bath & Beauty
A thoughtful Christmas present from her husband led Stephanie Zara to a whole new career. “My husband knew I was into do-it-yourself stuff and crafty things, so he got me a soap making book.”
She didn’t let it sit on a shelf. During time off from her job at the Grey Eagle, she immediately began experimenting with different aromas and varieties and began supplying her home, as well as her family and friends, with her products. As her interest continued to grow, she named her company Bella & Oliver Soap Co., after her two spaniels, and began selling at the Asheville City Market and the River Arts District Market. The soaps are also sold at Duncan & York on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville, Green 4 Life next to Whole Foods on Tunnel Road, and Edna’s Coffee Shop on Merrimon Avenue.
“We’re thinking we want to get more into wholesaling and still do local markets and festivals,” she said. “This past year we were at LEAF [Festival] in Black Mountain, the downtown LEAF festival in Asheville, LAAFF, a vegan festival, Venture Local, and Big Crafty. We’ve gotten great response from the community.”
She produces about 100 bars a week out of a spare room in their house in Swannanoa, but she does increase that number for big events. In the beginning she crafted small batches of soaps using one mold. Now she uses four molds to increase production. She’s also continually experimenting with different aromas and combinations.
“Our most popular is rosemary and grapefruit. It has poppy seeds in it,” said Stephanie. “I have eight varieties that I consistently have all the time and I’m adding new things during the season. I just created a cinnamon orange and clove bar for winter and recently finished a chocolate and mint. I’m also sourcing locally. I use cacao shells from French Broad Chocolate Lounge. It’s something they don’t need anymore, that they get rid of, and I source it from them. The cacao shell creates a scrub quality. It has an exfoliant factor. It’s the same thing with coffee. We use Edna’s Estate Light Rose coffee for our coffee soaps. I also have a beer soap, and I use Green Man’s IPA.”
Originally from York, South Carolina, Stephanie and her husband, John, moved to Asheville together in 2012 and married in 2013. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina, for a brief time, but missed Western North Carolina so much that they moved to Swannanoa. “We are completely in love with Asheville,” said Stephanie.
She’s comfortable building her business from a spare room at home, but says as her company continues to grow she might begin looking for outside space. “I’m not sure if I’ll just do the festival scene or open up a shop,” she said. “We thought about Black Mountain because it’s closer to us and cheaper. Right now, my real goal is just to get in as many shops as I can. I like the wholesale route.”
She’s working 20 hours a week at Grey Eagle in Asheville, but plans in the next six months to run Bella & Oliver full-time. John is a graphic designer and works for a marketing firm in Black Mountain.
The one thing Stephanie hopes to educate people about is the benefit of using all-natural soaps. She blends with essential oils instead of fragrance oils. “I have a charcoal soap that’s really good at drawing out toxins. I blend it with tea tree oil, which is an antiseptic. It’s great for things like acne and psoriasis. When I create my soaps, I try to create in a way that’s going to be beneficial and help my customers.”
Depending on the variety, soap bars are priced between $6 and $7. Stephanie also sells a line of all-natural lip balms for $3 a tube.
All of the soaps are available for order online at www.bellaandoliversoap.com.
Steeplechase Olde English Toffee: A Family Tradition
It’s enough to make your mouth water just reading the description—crunchy, buttery toffee layered with almonds and chocolate. But mere words can’t do justice to this delicious treat that leaves recipients begging for more. Zack Joyce has recently taken over the reins of his mom’s business, Steeplechase Old English Toffee in Waynesville, and says the secret to the decadent goodness is the use of high quality products mixed with loving care.
The company, now in its 20th year, evolved organically out of Barbara Joyce’s kitchen. She experimented with different toffee recipes until she hit upon the perfect combination. Her goal at the time was simple—make holiday toffee to give to family, friends, and clients of her husband, Jim. Once people got a taste, they begged for more. Her hobby morphed into a business and to a regular storefront at 235 Pigeon Street in Waynesville. There has been little marketing over the years. Word of mouth has been the best endorsement, but Zack hopes to use his skills in culinary arts, graphic design, and marketing to take the company to the next level.
Zack began helping his mom when he was a teenager at Tuscola High School. Even when he was at the University of Alabama, and subsequently in Chicago, he would return to the mountains of Western North Carolina every year to help with the holiday rush. He learned her secret recipe and how to use copper kettles to make the toffee in small batches.
“Each batch we make is 18 pounds,” explained Zack. “Other companies make 60 to 100 pounds in a batch. They don’t use care and love—everything is machine made. We are very hands on and use the best ingredients. We don’t use preservatives or additional fillers, and that’s why it’s so good. It’s the real deal.”
The company started out with one offering—the traditional Old English Toffee, which remains their best seller. Through the years they’ve added other varieties. They now sell six flavors: Traditional; Plain (no nuts and graham cracker crumbs instead of pecan meal on top); Tropical (buttery cashew and coconut laced toffee, but no chocolate, and dusted with ground pecans); Butter Mint (white chocolate infused with pure peppermint extract; Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, apple cider, with white chocolate); and the most recent addition, Peanut Butter and Chocolate.
Zack is in the process of revamping the company website, steeplechasetoffee.com. Right now, customers can place online orders, but all of the varieties aren’t currently offered in the online store. However, if someone wants a special flavor shipped, they are happy to accommodate that request if they send an email or call them. Plus, all of the flavors are available for people who visit their store in Waynesville.
The company produces 14,000 pounds of toffee each year, but it’s very seasonal at this point. Zack says 95% of their sales hit in November and December as people buy holiday gifts, party treats, and corporate gifts.
The toffee is very stable as long as it’s kept cool. Zack says it freezes really well, and will stay fresh in the refrigerator for four weeks before it gradually begins losing its flavor. Even so, they do ship a lot of their confections to warm climates like Florida and Afghanistan for the troops. Zack also notes England, France, and locales across the country as places receiving their toffee.
During November and December, family and friends are pressed into action to help fill the onslaught of orders. Zack’s brother Alex, who is a stand-up comedian in Chicago, arrives home each year to run the shipping department. Zack is also quick to recognize the company’s few employees: Ann Raymond, Katie Willis, Tammy Starnes, and Linda Jones. “Without them this place wouldn’t exist as it does today,” he said.
While the company has built a solid following, Zack is ready to push the edge of the envelope on what they can do in the future. “I’d like to get in local stores like Ingles and do more wholesaling and eventually franchise. Seriously, I’d like Steeplechase to be a household name.”
Right now, they sell online, at their store, and the toffee is also in Sunburst Market at 142 Main Street in Waynesville.
Venezia Dream Farm: Cozy & Comfortable Alpaca Luxury
“Go ahead and touch it,” Starr Cash says as she encourages people to run their fingers over the goods displayed at her booth at the Ooh La La Market in Asheville’s Pritchard Park. She knows when she can get people to feel the socks, scarves, and other products crafted by fibers from her herd of alpacas, there’s a greater chance they’ll make a purchase.
“Alpaca hair feels different,” she said. “It has more of a cashmere, silky softness than you feel in your hand with wool. It’s not something you can see, but you can feel it. It’s silkier. It feels softer and has more luster and shine. It’s more of a luxury grade than most wool.”
Running an alpaca farm is the second career for Starr and her husband, Joe Jaworski. After retiring from careers in Southern California, they returned to the east coast with the dream of having a little farm. Joe was originally from New York City, while Starr was from Kentucky. When her father recommended they check out Asheville, they fell in love with the area and initially bought a 40-acre farm in Riceville in 2000. In May 2001 they acquired their first herd of three females and two male alpacas.
“We had never farmed or raised any form of livestock, so it was important to buy from someone who would be a mentor and educator after we brought the animals home. We found that kind of connection with a woman in Kentucky,” she said.
Early on, she started a farm store, which she jokingly referred to as her “store in a box.” It was a small tote in the barn with a few products available for sale. She joined a farmer’s cooperative, called Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America, and currently serves as the group’s business manager.
“They collect the annual harvest and make products,” she explained. “The co-op is a good way to have an assortment of products at a low cost instead of having too much cash tied up in inventory.” She sells many items through her booth at festivals and fairs—socks, yarn, hats, gloves, wrist warmers, mittens, blankets, shoe inserts, and dryer balls—but she also crafts her own scarves. “It’s important to try to use every bit of fiber the animal provides to recover your cost. The shoe inserts and dryer balls don’t use the luxurious part of the fiber, but they sell like hot cakes. The biggest seller is the alpaca socks. It’s something everyone can use. It’s a little bit of a luxury item, but something you can afford to indulge in.” The socks range in price from $20 to $28 a pair depending on style, weight, and thickness.
“Over the years, I’ve tried to find my niche as a fiber artist,” she continued. “It’s so tempting when you have such wonderful fibers to work with. I’ve taken dozens of classes. Nothing struck a cord until I started weaving. I take yarn from the co-op and add a next layer of value to it by making handmade scarves from the yarn. I now have a larger loom. My ambition is to make throw blankets.”
Starr and Joe endured an enormous amount of maintenance on their 40-acre farm and decided three years ago to downsize. They now run Venezia Dream Farm in Candler on a four-acre plot of land. Two acres are devoted to alpaca pastures. There are currently 13 in the herd—six females and seven males. While Starr was an active breeder for a number of years, she has dialed back and now breeds more for the replenishment of her herd.
“One of the advantages of the new farm is that I have space defined as my farm store,” Starr said. “It’s by appointment only, but people can come out and visit with the alpacas and do a little shopping.”
Starr is quick to point out that farming is something one does out of love, not out of a desire to make a lot of money. “Farming is the day-to-day work of taking care of the property and the animals, and making sure they are healthy and happy. You are never going to make enough money to pay you for being out in the barn at midnight to take care of a sick animal. You farm because you love to do it and market products so you can afford to keep doing it. It’s a lesson I learned from my uncle who said all he has to do is make enough to do it one more year. I’ve had a really good time and I wouldn’t change what we’ve done for the world.”
Customers can also shop online at www.veneziadream.com.
Scott’s Knots: Fueling a Pretzel Addiction
During a trip to North Carolina, Scott Schneider fell in love with Asheville and enrolled in classes at UNC-A. Only one problem for this Philadelphia native: He needed to find a way to feed his pretzel addiction. Schneider cites a statistic he has seen before that says people in Philadelphia eat about ten times the amount of pretzels than people in other parts of the country consume. He’s not sure of the exact number, but can confirm from personal experience that an abundance of pretzels is enjoyed in the City of Brotherly Love. After moving, he craved Philadelphia pretzels so deeply that he created his own pretzel business and named it Scott’s Knots. “One slogan we have is ‘Philly pretzels with an Asheville twist,’” he said.
He moved to Asheville in January 2013 and got settled in. Once he focused on the business idea, it took him about six months to create a great pretzel recipe. The business officially launched just over a year ago offering all-natural, vegan, gluten free pretzels selling via a solar-powered pushcart. The snack quickly won rave reviews and committed fans.
Scott had previously worked during high school as the manager of a pretzel bakery in Philadelphia, so he used his baking skills to get the business off the ground with a partner, Kayla Grey. “She’s focusing on school right now, but she’ll return to the company,” he said. “My other partner—Thomas Whisler—is my best friend from Philadelphia. He helps with the day-to-day running of the business. He moved down in April. I needed help because we’re growing so fast.”
Keeping things local is very important as they prepare the pretzels. “We use all organic flour that is grown in Graham, North Carolina. I also use coconut oil instead of butter so everyone can enjoy them,” Scott continued. “We get other ingredients through the French Broad Co-op, and we buy our coconut and sugar through Santosha Chocolate, which is a small little chocolate bar company in Asheville.”
The company has started simple with one basic dough recipe and three different toppings. They sell traditional salted pretzels, “everything” pretzels that are topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic flakes, and salt, and cinnamon sugar pretzels. Schneider is developing new varieties and constantly experimenting. “We’re looking to do stuffed pretzel bites with sweet cream and cheese,” Scott says. “I’m also experimenting with health nut pretzels. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
They make the pretzels at the Roots & Branches bakery in Swannanoa, who willingly shares their kitchen space with the new company. Scott currently bakes about 750 pretzels per week, Wednesday through Sunday, and delivers them fresh each day. “We’d like to get more solar powered pushcarts and produce a mobile bakery that’s in a food truck style…and serve pretzel sandwiches and other great food,” Scott said. “I may do a Kickstarter project to get the food truck going.”
His business has grown rapidly and, while he still uses the pushcart at special events and festivals, Scott’s Knots has expanded into stores, restaurants, and breweries. He currently has more than 10 accounts. Scott’s Knots can be found around Asheville at French Broad Co-Op, West Village Market, Fresh Quarter Market in the Grove Arcade, Old Europe Café, Sol Bar at New Mountain AVL, Twin Leaf Brewery, One World Brewing, Five Walnut Wine Bar, Bier Garden, and Noble Cider. “We also work with Corner Kitchen Catering on occasion, set up at Black Mountain Farmer’s Market on Saturdays [in season], and we work with Brother Wolf and vend all of their special events for fundraising. It’s a special partnership.”
While the business is growing rapidly on its own, there are plans to merge Scott’s Knots with Shade Raised Organics, located in Leicester. The company distributes organic coffee from Costa Rica. They also sell dehydrated fruit dipped in chocolate and dried organic fruits: mango, pineapple, banana, and papaya. “Ric and Liz Goodman started the business 18 years ago,” said Scott. “They converted their basement into a distribution center. I’d like to have both companies merged by the spring. Our location is unknown until we have those details finalized. We’re looking to establish our center in Leicester, Swannanoa, or Woodfin.”
Another dream is to create a community grocery store gathering area where they can offer all types of education classes, everything from health and fitness to education. “We are using the pretzels as a platform to gain a voice in the community. We really try to promote sustainability and renewable energy,” said Schneider. They also believe they have a responsibility to give back to the community and currently donate all leftover pretzels to the American Veterans Restoration Association. “It’s a place on Tunnel Road in Asheville where they shelter and feed homeless veterans,” he said.
Scott spent some time getting a company website up and running. Schneider experimented with the best ways to package and seal the pretzels to offer online sales. “We want to start spreading regionally and then nationally when the time is right.”
Scotts-Knots.com debuted last month, find out more on their facebook page www.facebook.com/scottsknotsAVL
Go Hands Free and Tie One On
You never know where a good idea might come from. That’s why Black Mountain native Reuben Hollifield always has his eyes and ears open. He created his first product after spotting a guy at the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain wearing the broken arm of a camping chair around his neck secured with a bungee cord. The discarded armrest featured a cup holder, and this guy was using it to “wear” his beer while enjoying the games. It wasn’t the prettiest design, but it definitely served as a conversation starter; even better it spawned the idea for Reuben’s Beer Ties.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t something like that be perfect for camping and concerts where you can keep your hands free?’” said Reuben. “We worked six to eight months to get the design right. We knew it had to be balanced so it won’t slosh out with you’re walking around, and if you drop your keys or bend down, it won’t pour out.”
He gives credit to his wife, Keri Anna, and his parents, Clyde and Adrienne Hollifield, for helping him perfect the design and for supporting him every step of the way in this venture. They assisted him in selecting a waterproof fabric, ultimately settling on neoprene, and using a familiar necktie shape since it is worn around the neck.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with it,” said Reuben. “We developed it from July through December 2013 and then began the process of finding someone to make the tie. We first contacted Diamond Brand and some other businesses, but we finally partnered with a North Carolina manufacturer that makes things in Honduras. Once we got our samples and all the bugs worked out, we launched on Kickstarter in August 2014. It took over a year to get from concept to reality.”
They set an initial Kickstarter goal of $8,000, basing that figure on what they estimated their first minimum order would be from the manufacturer. Within two days of funding, they watched the total climb past their goal. “We set a realistic goal and we achieved it,” said Reuben. “During [our] Kickstarter, we sold ties around the world: Australia, Germany, England, Canada, Sweden, and Norway. One of our biggest supporters is in Australia. He said, ‘After you fund this, we want to sell them.’ He’s started selling them on his website in Australia. He believed in it so much he wanted to get involved.”
Beer Ties, in a variety of colors and designs, are offered for sale on the company website: www.beertie.com; as well as on Amazon.com, and through a number of local businesses in Western North Carolina, including L.O.F.T. on Broadway in downtown Asheville, which is known for its fun, funky stock of eclectic merchandise. They also worked with the Asheville Tourists to produce a Thirsty Thursday beer tie. Putting sports logos and college logos on the ties will be their next big expansion.
Reuben grew up in Black Mountain and graduated from Owen High School before heading off to Appalachian State University in Boone, where he received degrees in marketing and Spanish. He lived in Arizona for a year with Americorps, but “had to get back to these mountains.” He now works at Home Trust Bank for his nine to five job and spends after hours running his Beer Ties business. “All of my experience in college life and work life and social life are all coming together for this one thing,” he said. “I took drafting classes in high school, and that helped me put together the products and plans for the manufacturer. I learned Photoshop in college. I also took a number of classes in entrepreneurship, and those were probably the most useful. That’s the cool thing about the beer tie—it’s where all roads meet.”
Reuben says he’s also amazed that the business has grown rapidly due in part to what he calls “some really awesome, random stuff.” Cosmopolitan magazine contacted him out of the blue and asked for permission to grab photos off his website to feature the beer ties in its 2014 gift guide. Then he was contacted by MTV wanting to feature the ties, and the Steve Harvey Show showcased them in a segment about drinkware.
“Recently we got a really fun call from Adam Carolla,” said Reuben. “I never thought I’d be sending ties to Adam Carolla. When I was in college I watched him all the time on Comedy Central.
“Our overall goal is to bring a smile to somebody’s face,” he continued. “When you wear one of these ties, it’s like you’re a celebrity. You can’t walk five feet down the street without people stopping you to say, ‘Where did you get that? I need that.’ We enjoy seeing people have fun wearing the product.”
He hopes the demand for the ties carries on for a long time. He admits, “This can be a flash in the pan type of thing, but we’ll ride it to the end. In the meantime we’ll think of other fun things to make. I know now that it’s possible to take an idea and make it a reality.”
Rebuen beer ties sell for $19.99 and are available for online order at http://www.beertie.com/
A Brand New Brew for Anyone
Versatility is the name of the game for two Asheville bartenders who have entered the drink market with their own brand of ginger beer. Their hand-crafted drink spans generations since it’s non-alcoholic—it’s great for kids as well as adults who prefer not to drink alcohol. “It’s a stand alone drink that anyone can enjoy as a soda or health tonic,” said Jeff Daniels, co-owner of the company. “But it can be alcoholic when you use it as a mixer for spirits. You can mix with vodka, bourbon, rum, and other spirits. It’s super good.”
The idea sparked as Daniels and his business partner, Max Karcheski, fielded bar requests from patrons at the Aloft Hotel on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. They’ve been working as bartenders there for three years and in February they launched Good Bros. Ginger Brew. “We had been shooting ideas around about a lot of business ventures,” explained Jeff. “One day, it just came to me that we were selling a lot of ginger beer. I thought we could make this ourselves. We love making drinks as bartenders, and we want people to have the best quality drinks.”
They began making the ginger beer in small batches, less than 50 gallons at a time. “Ours is a fermented beverage so it’s a different flavor than regular ginger beer,” Jeff said. “It has more health benefits, and the flavor has more citrus and more of a fresh ginger punch.”
They began selling weekly at the River Arts District Farmer’s Market, festivals, and have also landed accounts with several area restaurants and bars, including Aloft. “Aloft has been a big supporter,” he continued. “Isa’s Bistro also has a few different flavors. They contracted us to do a special watermelon flavor this past summer.”
Adding flavors gives the drink even greater appeal. They just created a fall spice flavor, which is an apple spiced ginger beer. It’s been selling well. Their two biggest sellers to date include their original ginger beer and an orange habanero flavor, but they also have Thai basil, pineapple, mixed berry, mango, and peach habanero, and other special seasonal flavors.
Originally from Miami, Daniels arrived in Asheville in 1994 to go to college. Karcheski moved to Asheville in 2010. He’s originally from Wisconsin, but was living in Maui, Hawaii, when he felt the pull to the Western North Carolina mountains. “He moved from one paradise to another paradise,” said Jeff.
They maintain their bartending jobs at Aloft, but they are busy crafting and selling the ginger beer. They are currently working out of a commercial kitchen in downtown Asheville, but are getting ready to transition to a new production facility in Woodfin.
“It’s just the two of us,” Jeff said. “We do all the heavy lifting. We do everything from sourcing of ingredients to brewing to bottling, labeling, distributing, sales, and marketing. Hopefully we’ll be able to hire others at some point, but this is fun for us. We enjoy every level of it. We do have a social media person and a local artist who creates the artwork for our labels.”
Most of their sales are local. They haven’t yet ventured into selling online, but that’s definitely a possibility as the company grows.
“Most good ginger beer is shipped from overseas. We just want to grow and represent Asheville and Western North Carolina,” said Jeff.
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