More Inspiring Minds
Tempt your tastebuds
These Ohio University alumni and students are producting quite a variety of products. Here are some highlights:
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Premium salsas, produced year-round, include house mild, house hot, salsa verde, chipotle and habanero. Seasonal salsas, called Limited Harvest, incorporate locally produced ingredients and include such blends as apple verde and blackberry chipotle. Other products include peach jam; tomato sauce; pickled pepper strips, asparagus and cucumbers; and roasted tomatoes.
Mushroom Harvest sells chemical-free shiitake, maitake, oyster and lion's mane mushrooms.
The Herbal Sage Tea Co.
Blends include organic peppermint and spearmint, Womyn Spirit, Morning Meditation, Calming Cough, Siesta Shake-up and Pure Bliss.
The Dotty Baker
Dotty Baker offers chocolate chip, ginger crystal, pecan chocolate nougat, walnut chocolate chip and almond pecan crisp cookie varieties.
Local entrepreneurs have another opportunity to sell their products, right at Ohio University, in fact. A new store, called Food We Love, opened in February in the Nelson Mini Mall. Food We Love is a retail store that exclusively sells locally made items, including food, clothing and dry goods. It is managed by ACEnet.
By Joan Slattery Wall
These cooks wouldn't say there are too many of them in the kitchen.
They're former or present Ohio University students who have more than their alma mater in common: They've chosen careers in the food industry, and they're getting help through ACEnet, a community economic development organization in Athens, to build their businesses.
In the ACEnet kitchen's packaging room, George Vaughan might be dehydrating the many varieties of mushrooms he sells to restaurants. Kim Gregg's been there, too, seeking labeling assistance and nutritional evaluation for the cookies she sells. And Maureen Burns, who stores her tea and herb blends at ACEnet before distribution, expects to produce bottled versions there this summer.
Down the hall, Leslie Schaller works at ACEnet as coordinator of food venture startups. Before she joined the staff, she used the organization's services as one of the original founders of Casa Nueva Restaurant & Cantina. In fact, Casa employees still spend eight- to nine-hour shifts bottling salsa at ACEnet every week.
The four -- who chose to stay in southeastern Ohio because they love the area and want to support it as well -- benefit from the networking opportunities they share as entrepreneurs.
Without ACEnet, Schaller says, Casa Nueva would be only a restaurant and cantina. Its growing side business -- which sells five standard varieties of salsa, several seasonal versions and bottled vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers -- wouldn't be possible.
Schaller, BGS '75, was introduced to the food industry as a student employee of Baker University Center, where she worked in the Frontier Room, The Cavern cafeteria, The Center Slice pizza shop and The Sweet Shop. That experience segued into a role as one of the original eight worker-owners of Casa Nueva. She is, in fact, the only remaining original co-owner still holding a stake in the company, which now has nearly 50 worker-owners. Many, in fact, are Ohio University students.
"From the moment we opened Casa, one of our dreams was to take many of our products and create a manufactured product line," she says. That became a reality in 1997, and today Casa sells its many products throughout Ohio. The company strives to purchase most of the food and services it needs from more than 30 local farmers or regional producers.
Schaller's college days also were a launching pad for her dedication to community efforts and activism in southeastern Ohio. (She even can show you her old student ID card, with a hole punched in the corner after she cast her vote in favor of student workers' unionization. The effort, to Schaller's dismay, failed.) Today, she maintains her interest in and sensitivity to Appalachia through ACEnet.
"Our role is more of a facilitator," she says, explaining how ACEnet helps startup businesses find funding and provides use of a commercial kitchen and canning and storage facilities. "Hopefully some of these businesses will take off and grow to create 50, 100 jobs. We're looking to create businesses that are not only customer- or market-savvy but also looking at the impact they have in the community."
That dedication is equally common among her peers, who put down roots in southeastern Ohio because they loved the area and eventually wanted to help support it economically.
"What speaks to me so much is the landscape here," she says. "I think the hills and the landscape are just really important to me and important to a lot of the people here. Whether you were born here or came here at some point of your life, it's very special."
Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.