Courtesy Martha Davis Kipcak/Mighty Fine Food
Martha Davis Kipcak started her food-based business by mixing influences from her southern roots and her current Wisconsin home into a signature pimento cheese.
Do you dream of cooking up your own food business? Do you have an heirloom family recipe that your friends proclaim you should bottle and sell? Like many, perhaps you get caught up in waiting for the right time, when everything is perfectly researched, tested and the entrepreneurial stars all aligned. If so, take an immediate dose of inspiration from Martha Davis Kipcak, the food-artisan visionary behind the new small and mighty start-up Mighty Fine Food, based in Milwaukee, who just launched her first product: Martha’s Pimento Cheese. You might find all the key business elements are right in front of you and, like Martha, you need to simply start stirring the pot.
"I'm not a farmer or a gardener. I'm a cook,” Martha explains. "My contribution to the local-food movement needs to come from putting a food product out there that is relevant, meaningful, tasty, resourceful, personal, local and has a story to tell.”
Through her work as a community food-system organizer in the Milwaukee area, Martha sees the work of sustainable producers first-hand and enthusiastic cheers on the connection between them and the community of local eaters.
"It took awhile to percolate just exactly what my local-food contribution could be,” Martha says. "The no-brainer answer was right in front of me all along: pimento cheese.”
If you’re from the South, you probably know exactly what Martha is talking about. A staple in southern kitchens, pimento cheese blends pimento peppers with cheese and mayonnaise and is used in anything from a sandwich to a dip to a condiment. While pimento cheese has maintained a steady presence in the South, for whatever reason, the traditional staple hasn’t held on in the North. Martha embraced this as an opportunity to align her pimento cheese recipe from her East Texas roots with the bounty of fine artisan cheeses in her adopted home state of Wisconsin for the last dozen years. The business launched in 2012 and is slowly growing to expand into different local-food shops in Wisconsin.
As a newly seasoned artisan food entrepreneur, Martha shares these three tips on launching your own small-scale food business:
1. Reach to your roots.
"There are certainly enough challenges and surprises during the business start-up phase, so begin with what you know,” Martha advises. "I know and love pimento cheese. It's in my DNA. Wisconsin knows cheese and has an impressive reputation for making world-class cheese.”
Embracing the opportunity to marry those two assets together, Martha successfully blended her Southern foodway traditions with regional food culture and summed it up in the Mighty Fine Food tag line: "Local Wisconsin Ingredients. Imported Texas Taste.”
2. Think multiple product uses.
While Martha often needs to educate her Northern clientele and and introduce them to pimento cheese, it doesn’t take long to sell them on the taste. "Pimento cheese is like salsa as there are countless ways to partner it with your favorite foods, such as on a burger; crumbled into grits, rice, pasta, potatoes; spread on hot or cold vegetables; smeared on your favorite crackers and pretzels,” Martha explains. "Throughout my lifetime, I have mostly eaten good pimento cheese between two slices of good bread as a dependable, nourishing, affordable sandwich.”
3. Think triple bottom line.
Sure, Martha’s vision for Mighty Fine Food embraces profitability, but she does so retaining sustainability and a commitment to "triple bottom line” practices. As we write about in ECOpreneuring (New Society Publishers, 2008), businesses like Mighty Fine Food celebrate the fact that profitability can be balanced with people and the planet, showcasing a commitment to how we treat other people and steward the environment.
On the environmental front, Martha’s Pimento Cheese is produced at Clock Shadow Creamery, one of only three urban cheese factories in the country, housed in a cutting-edge green building using locally sourced and recycled materials, innovative sustainable technologies and a deep commitment to community. But it’s the people aspect that truly drives Martha, supporting folks to reclaim their own kitchens and rediscover the joys of home cooking.
"Just this morning, a customer was telling me about her high-school daughter getting in the kitchen, making dinner for herself, using Martha's Pimento Cheese to create her own concoction,” Martha shares. "In a nutshell, that's what pleases me and drives me to do what I do: To hear such stories of people preparing food from scratch, nourishing themselves from their own ingenuity and resourcefulness. I love the gritty resilience, can-do moxie of ordinary people feeding themselves well and simply with multiple layers of satisfaction.”
Savoring the good life,
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