Heartwarming soups. Melt-in-your-mouth Southern biscuits. Organic tortilla chips. Scottish oatcakes. Meet five enterprising women who've taken beloved home cooking and built it into a thriving career.
Recipe: Callie's Charleston Biscuits
Who: Carrie Morey, 41, North Charleston, S.C.
Year launched: 2005
Sells in: About 200 stores
Annual revenue: More than $500,000
Number of employees: Eight, two of them full time
"Mama, you're a really good cooker," is a refrain Carrie Morey hears often from her young daughters, Cate, 7, and Sarah, 6. After all, they, along with big sister Caroline, 9, have grown up watching their mom build her biscuit business from scratch, just as Carrie once watched her own mother, Callie, whip up her mouthwatering Southern biscuits.
"One of my daughters said to me, 'Mama, can I own the biscuit business one day?' I answered, 'Absolutely.' And she said, 'Will you give it to me?' I replied, 'I wouldn't dream of it. You have to earn everything you get—that's the only way you're going to learn anything from it.' "
Carrie is the first to tell you how much she has gotten out of her own business, the seeds of which were planted years ago: Fresh out of college, she would tote her mom's handmade biscuits from Charleston, S.C., to New York City—where she worked for an Internet start-up as vice president of sales—to give to clients. "It was the favorite part of my job, just watching people's reaction: 'Oh, my God, this is the best thing I've ever had!' They would go crazy over them."
After marrying, moving home to Charleston and going to work for her dad as a financial adviser, Carrie had her first child and decided to become a stay-at-home mom. "That lasted about three months," she says. "I thought I might lose my mind!" So one day, while visiting her mother, "I was watching her make biscuits—she'd make, like, 500 at a time for parties she catered—and I said, 'Mom, you're getting older, and you can't be catering like this; it's too hard on your body. You should try to sell these biscuits.' She thought I was crazy—that no one would buy them. But I said, 'Listen, if I can come up with a viable business plan, would you consider it?' To say that I twisted her arm would be the understatement of the year. I think she said yes just to get me off her back."
Although Carrie says she'd always had "that entrepreneurial instinct," she pictured creating "a little business" that she could run out of her home while raising her children. She got a lot more than that: Today Callie's Charleston Biscuits is located in a 100-year-old former officers club at an abandoned shipyard and sells more than half a million biscuits each year—all still "mixed, rolled out and cut by hand," Carrie says, "so they have the texture of a down pillow." The original biscuits are part of a line that now features seven other varieties (including country ham, cinnamon, buttermilk, and cheese and chive), plus 12,000 containers of pimento cheese dip, as well as the company's latest product: cheese crisps.
Carrie's mom, who retired from the business in 2009, can't believe how far it has all come, Carrie says: "She's just blown away that we've made such a success out of a biscuit. She's very proud and a little bit in awe." Carrie has been helped along the way by her best friend since junior high, Amy Kissell, 41, the company's director of operations. "Amy is irreplaceable," Carrie says. "She treats Callie's like her own business."
It has been a whirlwind for Carrie, who also blogs and last year published her first cookbook of Southern-style family recipes, Callie's Biscuits and Southern Traditions. "People always ask, 'Aren't you excited and proud?' And I say, 'I don't have the time to be'—I'm just wondering, What is the next level?' I never really think about what we've accomplished; I just think about what we can do to make the company better."
- BEST ADVICE: "I decided early on not to pay for advertising. Instead, we spend all our money on samplings—either doing tastings in stores or sending biscuits to people in the media who might be intrigued enough to write about them."
- HARD LESSON: "Having a partner, even if it's a member of your family, is not always wise. It's hard to run a business with two people. It's best to have one captain of the ship."