Written by Marla Hardee Milling
If you dream it, you can bring it into reality—at least that’s the case for six cottage industry entrepreneurs profiled here in our annual “Sweet & Savory” feature, all residing in the Western North Carolina area and who have turned passions and hobbies into full-time money making ventures. Some work out of their basements and garages. Others, who work with food products, work in certified kitchens to prepare their delicacies with FDA approval. The common thread that runs through all of their stories is a genuine love for what they are creating. They also share a desire to offer things other people will love, too.
The seeds of the Barnardsville-based Goddess Ghee company were planted during a friendly conversation among friends. Right after Marion Hearth gave birth to her first child, a friend told her about the health benefits of ghee and how nourishing it is for new moms. “What’s ghee?” she asked. Her friend gave her a jar and a recipe. Marion soon began making her own frequently to keep her kitchen stocked.
“Ever since the first time I made it, I knew I never wanted to run out,” says Marion. “It started going in everything I cook and became my main cooking oil. I would make extra and keep it going.”
So, what exactly is ghee? Many people mistakenly think it’s the same thing as clarified butter, but Marion says that’s not the case for what she produces. “We simmer butter, and over a long period of time all of the water evaporates and milk solids separate from the oil. We cook it longer so the milk solids get caramelized. That’s the difference. Clarified butter is clear butter oil and ghee is a caramelized butter oil.”
The growing business sources its butter from Ireland through French Broad Co-Op in Asheville. The brand Kerrygold is pure Irish butter and is chosen for its high quality. “Because we make the ghee with butter from grass eating cows and they aren’t eating grain, it’s higher in vitamins A, D, K, and E than it would be,” says Marion. It’s also lactose and casein-free, and doesn’t have to be refrigerated.
Marion originally moved to North Carolina from Colorado to do an internship on a farm to learn how to grow food and how to homestead. She met her husband, Sterling, who is from Brevard, and the rest, as she says, is history. “I feel a strong connection to this area and it feels like home more than anywhere I’ve ever lived. I’m really thankful to be raising children here and starting a business and putting in lots of roots.” She believes food is medicine and says, “Everything I make is coming from the desire to nourish myself and my family first and make extra for the community around me. I’m focused on health and healing and general well-being. I would never sell anything that I wouldn’t eat or feed to my children.”
Marion kept making ghee, had another baby, and became passionate about telling friends about the amazing health benefits. They encouraged her to start selling it. She had been wanting to develop some sort of home business to allow her to stay home with the kids, so expanding her ghee production became a natural fit. Her home kitchen was certified for production, and she began producing larger quantities of ghee, a medicinal turmeric infused ghee, and also bottles of an Elderberry Elixir. It’s a wellness syrup that combines elderberries, raw honey, apple cider vinegar, and a few other ingredients. It can be used as an immune booster, but Marion says it can also relieve symptoms of cold and flu if you do get sick. It also serves as a cough syrup. She makes it in small batches without preservatives, which means it needs to stay refrigerated.
She first got her ghee into French Broad Co-Op and then began making plans to do the circuit of area tailgate markets. At that point, she asked her husband, Sterling, to quit his job and develop Goddess Ghee as a family business.
“I tend to be the one dreaming up recipes and creating different blends, and he carries the business along to remember to order jars and butter and all that sort of stuff,” says Marion. “We make a great team and have different talents. We both make the ghee and both sell at market. We alternate every other week between the Asheville City Market and the North Asheville Tailgate Market [in the regular season], and in the winter we just do the City Market inside the Masonic Temple.”
In addition to French Broad Co-Op, Goddess Ghee is found at West Village Market in West Asheville, Asheville Direct, The Chop Shop, Roots & Fruits in Black Mountain, and several other small stores in the region, as well as sales through their website and the Etsy site. They’ve also received interest from Earth Fare and Whole Foods and are in the process of filling out paperwork.
The business has grown to the point that Marion’s home kitchen was no longer adequate to produce the amount of ghee needed, although she still produces the Elderberry Elixir at home. Some great synchronicity occurred when they started looking for a commercial kitchen and a new one opened up five minutes from their Barnardsville home at Ashe Springs Farm. They book a couple of days a month for production. “We try to produce ghee by the ancient Ayurvedic method using the moon cycles. We make ghee on the waxing period of the moon or on the full moon,” she says. “Production is about two days per moon cycle. We use 120 pounds of butter for each batch. We’re doing about 240 pounds of butter per moon cycle. We get about 100 pints of ghee per batch.”
Marion and Sterling are very hands on with the work and do everything they can themselves to save on costs. That includes building their own website, doing photography, designing labels, fulfilling orders, and going to the markets. “We do have two paid helpers—kitchen goddesses who come in and help us with production those two days a month.”
Experimentation with new flavors is ongoing. Honey ghee has become a hot seller at the markets, and Marion recently developed some holiday versions. She made a spiced honey ghee and a dark chocolate ghee.
She recently took samples to market with her. She had made 10 four-ounce jars of the chocolate ghee and put one out for samples. When customers wanted to buy a jar, she had to admit, “I don’t have any left. I ate them all. It was so good. I will be making more, and next time I’ll make my own jar so I have some left to sell.”
In addition to the markets and retailers mentioned, you can find the product at www.goddessghee.com.
In Laura Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate, a character named Tita evoked great emotions through her culinary expertise—those partaking of her creations experienced her emotions, whether it was great sadness, happiness, or contentment. If it’s true that a cook can infuse her own feelings into a menu, then Asheville baker Meg Schearer, of Whisk avl, is definitely adding in multiple helpings of laughter, spontaneity, creativity, and unbridled joy. Her infectious spirit draws people in from the moment she meets them.
Meg is also a great example of someone who takes life’s lemons and transforms them into an iced cake fit for a king. She’s endured setbacks and surprises in her career, but keeps moving forward and she credits many helpful people in the community for keeping her on track.
The roller coaster began when new owners took over the West End Bakery in West Asheville and decided to discontinue making cakes and other desserts. Meg was the dessert chef there and had to scramble when she received her notice. “I was laid off on May 4, 2015. I cried for awhile and then picked myself up and started Whisk on May 9, 2015,” she says.
She had orders to fill, but she needed a place to make her cakes and desserts. “I literally put it on Facebook,” she says. “I put it out in the ether. I was like, ‘Hey, does anybody know of a community kitchen I could possibly rent?’ And the ether gave me Cecilia. A friend of a friend says, ‘You’ve got to talk to this woman. She’s amazing. She’s so kind and so generous. She might not be able to help you immediately, but she’ll have an option for you.’ I emailed her and she called me back in 10 minutes. I came to look at her space and wrote her a check immediately.”
She’s talking about Cecilia Marchesini, who runs Cecilia’s Kitchen on Merrimon Avenue, and Ceci’s Culinary Tour food truck. Working at Cecilia’s Kitchen helped Meg establish her own business as a premier cake and dessert maker in Asheville, and that led to other opportunities. While maintaining her business, she gained confidence baking bread for the Lexington Avenue Brewery for four months, and then moved to Westville Pub on November 1, 2016.
“They’re having me do all their fresh breads now, so all of their burger buns, sandwiches, and specials are made by me at five o’clock in the morning rocking it,” she says. “The owner has bought the space in between Orbit and the Pub [on Haywood Road in West Asheville] and they’re going to use it to build a brewery. They’re going to knock out the wall and have more storage. Right now is a transitional phase. They are co-branding with me—Whisk at Westville—so it’s a very good thing for me,” she explained.
What this means is that Meg is paid to make Westville’s breads and desserts, and then she uses their kitchen space and equipment to run Whisk. She arrives by 5AM to begin baking bread. While the bread is processing, she will clock out, make a cake, and clock back in. She keeps her work separate and fits it into the schedule, and then also continues to bake after her work for the Pub is finished.
She’s frequently booked for wedding cakes, but she makes a wide range of products using local eggs and local produce, everything from birthday cakes to cookies and her favorite thing to make—pies. “My dad has nine apple trees, so I make a lot of apple pies. The apples are super organic and super delicious,” she says. Special dietary requests are welcomed, including gluten-free items, vegan, egg-free, and dye-free. She’s even had some customers trust her with a favorite family recipe, and she always delights them with the results.
Her ultimate goal is to use this new opportunity to build capital to one day open a bakery in her own space. “I took the Birds Eye Business Planning class at Mountain BizWorks and that was unbelievably eye-opening for me,” she explains. “I didn’t have much of an idea about what it would take to open a business, how much capital it would take to open a business. So that was a little terrifying. Luckily, I have no debt, but I also have no credit. This is a good time for me to build credit with my business in a safe space where I can continue to make money for the business as I’m getting paid. That was a wonderful course. I gained a lot of confidence in numbers and what needs to happen. It makes you think outside the box and realize, let’s crunch these numbers. If your rent is five grand a month and you’ve got to pay three people and your equipment costs, you’re looking at $12,000 a month. That’s a lot of cake—a LOT of cake! This is a good fit for me for a few years. They are investing a fair amount of money into this situation at the Pub, so I am lucky to reap the benefits of brand new mixers and brand new ovens.”
She says word is also getting out in the neighborhood that she’s returned to West Asheville. Many remember her from her seven years at West End Bakery. “Being back in a place in walking distance with signs up that say ‘Hey, do you miss Meg?, She’s BACK!’ is pretty awesome.”
“I’m proud of myself every day,” she says.
View some of Schearer’s many creations at www.whiskavl.com.
Driving down Vermont Avenue in trendy West Asheville, you might never suspect what creations are coming to life just out of sight. A purple bike suspended above the porch and a mosaic walkway are just hints of the whimsical business hidden in Kimberly Masters’ newly expanded and renovated basement. She spends her days crafting uniquely designed soaps with luxurious aromas, and then cuts and sells them by the slice.
As she talks, five-year employee Mike Mahoney works steadily to wrap and label the individual slices of soap. “A few stores order by the loaf and slice for customers,” says Kimberly.
It’s fun to scan the shelves of brightly colored soaps with intricate patterns and shapes: Some have letters on them, others feature multi-colored spirals inside the soap, and yet others have designs of such things as a bicycle, a white squirrel, or a black bear in the mountains—very appropriate for the Western North Carolina region.
The process begins by making the soap in big bread makers. Each batch takes a couple of hours.
She creates the inspiring designs by layering different shapes in molds and then pours a background cover around them. Once they are hardened inside bread loaf pans, she pops the large soap blocks out and stacks them neatly on shelves lining the walls.
The basement space is so well-lit and well-utilized with plenty of space for the equipment, molds, and finished products, it’s hard to imagine that she worked out of the upstairs part of her house for 12 years before expanding into the basement.
“In 2015 I moved out of my kitchen and bedrooms to this dedicated space,” she says.
The name of her business—Essential Journeys—is a nod to her wanderlust lifestyle. She’s traveled all over the world and even lived for five years in Alaska, where she showed her bravery maintaining a household without electricity or running water. Even though she’s settled in Asheville now, she still satisfies her travel bug by leading bicycling trips all over the world. She works as a contract guide for a tour company and accepts seven to 11 assignments a year, which are one-week adult locations. Last year, she spent five weeks in Italy. She’s also led tours in France, Bermuda, the Outer Banks, Maine, and even in Western North Carolina.
Her soap-making venture began innocently enough. When Kimberly moved to West Asheville from Alaska in 1999, she bought a book on how to make soap. She grew up in a household where creativity and making things was always encouraged: Her dad raised bees, while her mother was a watercolor artist and made clothes. In Alaska Kimberly had a business making fleece hats and headbands, so she was already in an entrepreneurial mindset. She learned to make soap and then began working on the design element and working with different mold shapes. She developed her own way to transform soap into art and turned it into a full-time business in 2004. Her inventory is offered on her website, as well as in 150 stores, including many local retailers. Of those, Mast General Store—with locations in Boone, Asheville, Hendersonville, Waynesville, Winston-Salem, Knoxville, Greenville, and Columbia—is her biggest customer.
The best seller is a lavender soap bar featuring the design of a dragonfly, but there are dozens and dozens of designs and scents to choose from. The soaps are offered in 10 themed collections: Aromatherapy, Floral Botanicals, Citrus Sensations, Fruits & Berries, Novelty Collection, Holiday Collection, Sugar & Spice, Valentine Collection, Herbal Collection, Coastal Collection, and Everyday. There’s also an opportunity for custom orders. She sees a lot of wedding business and gives brides a chance to match the wedding invitation and pick out color, scent, and design. “We can make their wedding soaps, whether they want 12 slices or 200,” says Kimberly.
She has also branched into other products including lip balm called “Lube for the Lips” (five flavors), goat’s milk body lotions, arnica bath salts, soy candles, and the newest product—a Rosemary Mint Arnica Salve. “We do a beer soap in slices, and I’m working now on a formula to put beer in liquid soap,” she says. “For our soy candles, we take wine bottles or whiskey bottles from some of the restaurants on Haywood Road and we cut them, sand them, and pour the soy wax inside.”
As for the future, Kimberly says, “We’re always expanding and doing new things.”
Shop online at www.essentialjourneys.com.
After 16 years working in facility maintenance, with the last two spent at Memorial Mission Hospital, Patrick Ober loves his new commute—a simple walk downstairs to his garage at his West Asheville home. He can take just a couple of steps outside to survey the chickens running the length of his chain-length fence and to inspect his bee hives. This new lifestyle is the culmination of years of work as a metal artist, while maintaining a regular income. He’s been living in Asheville for three years and made the leap in October 2015 to focus full-time on his craft as he designs intricate titanium and silver bracelets and watch chains, spinning tops, rings, and even pieces of body armor.
“It was a long slog to know what I was doing,” Patrick says. “I have collected the tools and skills to do it, and I’ve learned how to price things.” While working with titanium and silver isn’t cheap, he’s developed a line of products in a wide price range to accommodate just about any budget. His items range from $15 to $3000.
He actually began learning how to make armor when he was 14 years old. He learned from his brother, who was in college at the time. That fueled his inspiration to earn a Fine Arts degree with a concentration in sculpture at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. He continued on by taking classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. That’s where he learned to solder silver and begin making pieces of jewelry.
His garage is equipped with an impressive display of machinery—big, heavy duty pieces that craft much smaller items for sale. “Most of the chains I make now are based on European, Japanese, and Persian chainmail, and the other branch of the stuff I make is a whole family called loop-in-loop, which is much older. Chainmail is 2,000 years old, give or take.
Loop-in-loop is 3,000 or 4,000 depending on what book you read. It’s a technique that was lost for a couple hundred years and then rediscovered in the 1860s in Italy by a family of goldsmiths,” says Patrick.
He points out the five-ton and 20-ton hand punches that he uses to punch out each individual ring that he uses in the jewelry. It’s time consuming work, but the result is a stunning bracelet or chain that will stand up to the test of time. “All of my equipment is hand machinery. I don’t want anything I can run with a computer and doubt I ever will,” he says. “I enjoy the process of figuring out the best process to use. A variety of rulers are the most extravagant tools I have. Most everything is done by eye. It’s take a lot of practice and a lot of breaking things.”
Spinning tops have proven to also be good sellers for Patrick. He pulls one out of a box and sets it in motion. He creates these using a lathe. They have a bronze middle and titanium on the outside. The average spin time is 10 minutes, although it varies due to size and weight. “I had been making lanyard beads for years on a lathe and a friend here in Asheville says, ‘Have you ever thought about making a spinning top? They’re becoming popular.’ I had never thought of doing that. I figured out how to do it.”
He relies almost exclusively on online sales for his work, but he does go to one big knife show every Labor Day in Las Vegas. “I’ve also done a local event, an outdoor artist market at Burial Beer,” he says. “I just went to one, but next year I’ll try to sign up for all of them.”
Hanging near the garage doors are two body armor shirts, crafted from the hand-punched titanium rings. The pieces are extremely intricate. Patrick says it’s more intensive to punch all the rings than it is to assemble all of them into a shirt. Customers for this type of work are typically those who frequent Renaissance festivals and Markland events, where there are Medieval battles. “They do fights,” he says. “There will be 30 to 60 guys in full armor with weapons.” (Ironically, his girlfriend makes her living as a wound care nurse.)
“I like making things that are going to last basically forever,” he continues. “People are still digging up chains across Europe. There’s no reason my chains can’t last as long.”
To view the product line and Ober’s photo blog, go to www.obermetalworks.com.
Jim Brooks sips a cup of coffee at Karen Donatelli Bakery & Café on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville—the latest business to embrace Woogie Foods’ beer mustard sauce. Donatelli is preparing to open a restaurant on the downstairs level, and she’s already keyed in to Woogie’s Beer Mustard & Dippin’ Sauce becoming a regular staple.
“I’ve been making it for more than 25 years and giving it as Christmas gifts,” he says. It’s a tradition started by his mother, nicknamed Woogie (pronounced Woo’ ji), but he says his recipe has evolved to be a little bit different from hers. His mother makes it with a lighter beer. He prefers a darker beer and crafts his mustard with Highand Brewing’s Oatmeal Porter.
“We always have a keg of great beer on site at all times. We also have something called our Co-Brew Program where we’ll make mustard with local brewers’ beer,” he says. “On the lid it would name the brewery and name of the brew. We did a bath with Twin Leaf Brewery’s hoppy IPA.”
In early 2015, he decided it was time to start making the mustard on a larger scale. He rents space at Blue Ridge Food Ventures (BRFV), but is planning to build his own production facility as soon as he can raise the capital. He doesn’t have the refrigerated storage at BRFV to meet a heavier demand, so he knows building his own facility will be a necessary step. He’s currently scouting potential locations in the Swannanoa and Mills River areas.
Jim’s background includes 15 years in software development and 20 years as a builder. He’ll return to the past a bit as he builds and sells a couple of houses with his brother to raise money for the new Woogie Foods facility. “We’ll spend six to nine months turning a couple of houses. For the last year and a half, I’ve been working on the mustard pretty much full-time. For the next six months, it will probably be 50/50. My days start early and end late as I switch hats. I’m hopeful by this time next year I’ll be in my own facility.
“Getting into (more stores) is driving me to get my own space where I can produce 40 to 80 gallons a day,” he continues. The mustard is already in 18 retail locations, including two local Earth Fare locations, French Broad Co-Op, and a variety of breweries and shops in Asheville, Hendersonville, and Brevard. Jim also sets up booths regularly at the tailgate markets in Weaverville, West Asheville, and at the Transylvania Farmers Market, as well as various in-store demonstrations.
“We don’t sell it. We introduce it and it tends to sell itself,” says Jim.
The thing that has surprised Jim most about this business is the creativity people use when coming up with ways to use and enjoy the mustard. He’s been introduced to using the mustard as a base on pizza, as part of mixture of Chex mix, and as a marinade for salmon and meat. He also has a knack for making people’s mouths water when he describes how he uses the mustard on grilled shrimp, and as a sauce for wings. He also says it’s amazing in deviled eggs.
When he started, he made the mustard in five gallon batches, but he’s now gone up to 20 gallons per batch. He’s very enterprising and found a way to create his own auto stirrer. “This is all new to me. If you’re not learning, you’re going backwards,” he says. “I love what I do.”
The business includes his niece, Mariza, who Jim describes as his protégé. Right now she’s working with him about 25 percent of the time and helping with production, selling at markets and going to demos. “I hope she’ll take it over one day.
A food product is almost as chancy as a new restaurant. Once I get to the point that I’m in my own space, I’d love to bring on employees. At that point venture capitalists will come into play unless we do so well that we use our own capital,” he says.
“I’ve got a lot of things to learn still and things to put together. As long as I have time for a round of golf, I’ll be happy.”
A directory of markets and retailers where Woogie products are found can be viewed at www.woogiefoods.com.
Karen’s Spice Kitchen
The aroma of curry frequently fills the air at the Paly household in East Asheville. Karen Paly developed a love for curries growing up in South Africa. She’s now devoting her focus to helping others prepare curry dishes in a quick, efficient way.
It all started when she visited her father and stepmother in Australia. A friend invited her in for a home cooked meal and told her, when she arrived, that she was going to prepare a curry dish. Karen knew what this meant—hours of preparation before they would be able to eat. When the dinner bell rang in 45 minutes, she was incredulous. “How did you make this so fast?” she quizzed her friend. The secret was a pre-blended spice mix created by an Australian company. Karen bought dozens of their blends and then approached the company with an offer. She and her husband wanted to become the United States distributors for the spice packets. Company managers weren’t interested, but they invited her to develop her own packets.
Karen’s background is in graphic design, but she has always loved cooking and baking, so this challenge inspired her. She spent about four months developing recipes and coming up with a process for blending and packaging the spices. Her husband never complained as she served up curry night after night in her attempt to get the recipes just right. She also sent spice packets to friends around the country and used their feedback to keep tweaking.
In January 2016, she officially launched Karen’s Spice Kitchen. She works in a production facility on land near her home that she and her husband own, and she blends the spices, hand packs, heat seals, inserts into bags, and labels them. Her mother helps her, but it’s very labor intensive. She dreams of the day when she can afford to buy a machine that will automate some of the steps they are doing by hand.
Each spice packet has a specific recipe included on the back and each variety is made with three simple steps. “The method is you chop an onion, add the garlic and spices, and then the rest of the ingredients,” says Karen. To make it even easier, she has created YouTube videos to show the step-by-step process.
There are currently 12 varieties, with the Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken, and Thai Satay coming out as the best sellers. Each packet is color coded. Pink is for chicken, green for lamb, orange for beef, yellow for vegetables, and purple for shrimp. Labels with two colors mean you can use either type of protein for that dish. But Paly encourages creativity and experimentation. “Feel free to make substitutions,” she says. “You can use fish or tofu or tempeh or just vegetables. I have a lot of friends who say, ‘You’ve finally found a way to make tempeh taste good.’ If a recipe calls for cream, you can substitute with coconut milk.”
All of the spice blends are mild, but she includes a separate small bag of hot chili powder for those who want to add some heat to their meals. She ships the packets to buyers all over the country, but there are also about 22 retailers who sell them as well, including the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, Asheville Direct Brand Gallery, Foreign Affairs Oriental Market, French Broad Co-Op, Lee’s Asian Market, MTN Merch, The Chop Shop, West Village Market and Deli, and Willow’s Dream in Asheville; The Artsian Gourmet Market and Common Housefly in Black Mountain; Savory Thymes in Boone; Food Matters in Brevard; and others in Fairview, Hendersonville, and Hickory.
She initially asked friends if they would want to chop an onion during preparation or have dried onion included in the spice packet. All agreed—cooking an onion creates a wonderful aroma and you feel like you’re putting forth effort for your family, even though Karen has created a very simple process. “I love to hear people say, ‘You’ve made my life easier. I can make a delicious meal that I normally wouldn’t make.’ I’ve ground all the spices, so it’s ready to go.”
New flavors are currently in the works. She’s planning a Moroccan chicken or lamb recipe and hopes to launch it by the end of the year.
You can also order from Paly directly at www.karensspicekitchen.com.
The original article is below. Click to open in fullscreen…