Written by Marla Hardee Milling
It is time for one of our favorite features of the year, and it has been since 2013—a chance to investigate cottage businesses that started in a small kitchen or basement and morphed into a much bigger scale operation.
The businesses we chose to profile this year all have two things in common: They are based in Western North Carolina, and they have all moved production of their products to Blue Ridge Food Ventures, which is a 24/7 shared-use commercial kitchen on the Enka campus of AB-Tech.
Executive Director Smithson Mills says Blue Ridge Food Ventures (BRFV) first opened in 2005 and makes it easier for small companies to get started. “There are two main things we bring to the table,” he explains. “The first is the physical space and physical infrastructure necessary to manufacture, and the second is the technical knowledge we have to formulate products, negotiate the regulatory environment, and meet the expectations of the marketplace to allow the companies to enter with a professionally packaged product that can sell well to consumers.”
In the past 12 months, BRFV has provided space and expertise to 50 companies. While demand is high, space availability continues to open up as successful companies move on.
“Our fastest growth companies ultimately grow out of us,” say Mills. “Right now, we have three million-dollar-plus companies that are in the process of building out their own facilities or arranging their own production. When they leave, we’ll bring in smaller companies and hopefully grow them into million-plus companies. We are constantly having our hearts broken because our biggest clients leave us.”
Buchi Kombucha began using BRFV in 2009 and now has its own multi-million facility in Marshall. Mills gives a nod to this company as one of the most successful to launch from BRFV. “I think they are now the largest private employer in Marshall, and they are buying other kombucha companies around the country. They’re on a fast growth track.”
Other success stories include Smiling Harrah’s Tempeh, Lusty Monk Mustard, Roots Hummus, Vortex Donuts, and No Evil Foods. (Several of these business—among them No Evil Foods and Roots Hummus, have been featured in the pages of this magazine in the past.)
As for the five new companies we are profiling in this article—Catering By Corey, Witch I Love Your Hair!, Munki Foods, Firewalker Hot Sauce, Darby Farms—Mills predicts, “Come back in three years’ time, and one or two of them may be the next million-dollar company.”
You can bet Capital at Play will be watching.
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