Growing a Specialty Food Sector

A new network is in place to support the growth of a local specialty food sector in our region and encourage the use of local ingredients in that sector. The Hannah Grimes Center, Hannah Grimes Marketplace, Neighbor Made Kitchen and the Cheshire County Conservation District’s Monadnock Menu’s program are working together in East Keene to build on the early successes of burgeoning hub of local food entrepreneurs. The Citizens Bank Foundation has provided funding for the project.

Theresa Darling, from TC’s Pantry, is one of the start up businesses taking advantage of that network. As a child, Theresa and her sister liked to sell iced tea and cookies from a hand-built, bright blue vendor stand on the corner of Little Bear and Big Bear Hill in rural Connecticut. They would tow it up the road with a rope and park at the intersection. “Boy, did we get excited when we made a sale! I still get that same feeling today,” Theresa recounts.

More recently, she started to make from scratch comfort food for family and friends to help make ends meet while she was home raising her children. Soon, customers were calling her, which encouraged her to explore starting down a more serious business path. In February of 2012, Theresa struck a deal a local village store and began selling her ready-to-eat comfort food from the South Acworth Village Store.

As Theresa tells it, “The community has embraced TC’s Pantry and given me the confidence to take the next step, which is to rent a commercial kitchen so that I can expand my market by selling frozen versions of my food that can be baked at home. The kitchen license at the general store only allows me to sell directly from that location – which is rather remote.”

When she’s not cooking, Theresa works as a small business bookkeeper. In October of 2011, she was laid off from a non-profit that lost its state funding. She found work again in April at a meat processing facility but in December of 2012 was laid off again. She says, “It is my goal to take TC’s Pantry to the next level and allow myself to build my own sustainable future.”

Business Description
TC’s Pantry currently makes delicious made-from-scratch comfort food. As she grows her business, she will start by specializing in her 5” and 9” chicken pot pies. The filling is made from premium chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and fresh herbs. The gravy is made from TC’s own homemade chicken stock. The crust, which has been described by customers as “deliriously good”, “outstanding” and “phenomenal,” is a family recipe. It is the perfect recipe to be frozen and baked at home. It is flaky, elegant and made with pure New England butter. TC’s Pantry also makes beef, butter bean and leek (vegetarian) and mushroom (vegetarian) pies. TC’s Pantry does not use any artificial ingredients or compromise standards of quality and will incorporate local ingredients whenever possible.

“I am confident in my ability to run a business successfully, as I have a business management degree from Franklin Pierce College and I have 15 years experience in bookkeeping and management, Theresa shares, “I have also had work experience in catering, packing, shipping, label and media creation and sales. I have a strong work ethic and I am very efficient in the kitchen.”

Business Support
TC is working with the Hannah Grimes Center to develop her business. Hannah Grimes and Neighbor Made work together to provide support to specialty food producers in the region. Neighbor Made Kitchen, which is privately owned, is known as a helpful and friendly entrepreneurial hub for Keene’s growing specialty food industry. Theresa has also been working at the Hannah Grimes Center with Rich Grogan from the NH Small Business Development Center on her business plan and has consulted with David Deziel, Nebesek Marketing, on her marketing. All these services are free. She is planning to be part of the next class of the six-month Business Start Up program, a peer program facilitated by business coach Helaine Iris which begins in May. The fee for that class is $600, but scholarship dollars for 75% of the fee are available for those who qualify.

In addition, Theresa is working with Denise Meadows, Marketplace Manager at Hannah Grimes Marketplace to bring her product to market. Hannah Grimes Marketplace provides a thriving retail marketplace, education and support for local producers. Sharlene Beaudry from Monadnock Menu’s has met with Theresa to help her source local ingredients for her recipes.

Hannah Grimes is a KivaZip Trustee – which means it is a portal for local businesses to interest free loans provided by this new crowdfunding site. TC’s Pantry was the first KivaZip loan funded in New Hampshire. She received $5,000 in interest-free loans from individuals who make interest-free loans to small businesses – in amounts as little as $25. The purpose of this loan is to rent commercial kitchen space at NeighborMade in Keene, NH. The kitchen has all needs covered including labeling equipment, a shipping center, and a full staff of industry professionals to advise entrepreneurs. The loan will also cover start-up costs such as licenses, permits, insurance, the utility deposit, a small amount of equipment, sales media, labeling, packing and beginning inventory.

It is a joy to work with such wonderful partners toward such an exciting goal. We have great food traditions in this region and a number of noteworthy examples of success. We are looking forward to expanding on that success. Look for Theresa’s product at Hannah Grimes Marketplace beginning in May.