By Carol Peppe Hewitt
Carol Peppe Hewitt will share her experience facilitating Slow Money loans at Slow Money’s National Gathering April 29–30 in Boulder, Colo. This excerpt is from her book “Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food with Slow Money” (New Society, April 2013). Peppe Hewitt is a business owner, activist and founder of Slow Money North Carolina. Since 2010, she has faciliated 75 Slow Money loans totaling nearly $700,000. This money is now at work growing the local food and sustainable farming economy throughout North Carolina. Find out more at our March 26 webinar, “Financing Our Foodsheds with Slow Money.”
|Carol Peppe Hewitt and Jordan Puryear, co-founders of Slow Money NC, shopping in Chatham Marketplace, their beloved co-op grocery store.
Thinking about Jackie Green’s story and how she came to own and run Sweet Cheeks Bakery makes me yearn for a piece of her Southern pecan pie. It may have the same effect on you. She tells her story like this:
I learned the fine art of Southern baking and cooking at a very young age growing up in South Carolina. After the death of my mother when I was 7 years old, I was raised by my grandmother and aunts, who passed on the love of baking. I spent hours in the kitchen under their tutelage learning the baking techniques and specialties that are part of my business today.
In 1993, I started decorating cakes for family and friends. Later, I began working part time for two catering companies decorating a variety of special-occasion cakes and wedding cakes. With a vision to start my own business (still working in corporate management in Winston-Salem, N.C.), I became sole proprietor of Cakes Galore, where I sold my original carrot cake to a local coffee shop. A few years later I started Southern Delectables in Blytheville, Arkansas, where I baked desserts for local families. Several convenience stores sold my signature “Butter Pound Cake” and “Southern-Style Pecan Pies,” which the neighborhood came to love and appreciate.
|Jackie Green, of Sweet Cheeks Bakery, making her famous cakes.
In the midst of the economic downturn, I was laid off. Through prayer and reflection, I decided to go back to what I was passionate about: baking. In August 2009, I founded Sweet Cheeks Inc. with a commitment to growing a stellar product line and providing the highest level of Southern hospitality–based customer service. At Sweet Cheeks we are passionate about great-tasting desserts and about baking the highest-quality products—fresh, made from scratch, deliciously moist, elegantly designed cakes, pies and pastries. I chose the recipes reminiscent of my youth, just like my grandma used to make: from scratch, with love!
When Jackie initially called me, it was the early days of our Slow Money project, and she was looking for $40,000 to start her business. At the time, that was way out of our league—$40,000 was 10 times more than any one of the Slow Money loans we’d made so far. I explained that I was sorry, but I didn’t think we could be of much help.
About a year later, she contacted me again. She had tracked down that $40,000 by getting a loan from the N.C. Support Center. She was marketing her wares via a website and was building up a wholesale customer base. She was selling her cakes to Whole Foods and her blond brownies to Ben & Jerry’s, and she had built a strong following of other loyal customers, as well. She hoped to move into her own retail space in the near future.
Now she had another challenge. “Another year has passed, and with the publicity of being on the radio, NBC and local newspapers, we now have a desperate need for a 60-quart floor mixer,” Jackie wrote to me in an email. “This larger mixer will help us maximize the capacity of our commercial convection oven, increase our baked goods output and decrease our labor time. But even the used ones cost several thousand dollars.”
This time, I hoped we could help. Jackie prays hard, and it seems to work. Within a week, I was speaking to someone from Raleigh who already knew Jackie and was happy to make her an affordable short-term loan. So Jackie started looking in earnest for a good, used commercial mixer.
And I went about my life, dealing with my daughter, Meg, who needed to be taken to a clinic in Florida for a week of treatments for an old knee injury that had flared up.
I was navigating Miami traffic when a call came in from Jackie. She was excited about a mixer she had found online. It was a Hobart (the best brand, she said) and it was an even bigger model (80-quart), which was even better. It sounded like it was in good shape; it was only four years old and had been serviced recently. A couple that had owned a pizza shop and just retired wanted to sell the mixer and all the attachments for $4,600. Jackie had talked to them and offered them a bit less. They said they’d think about it and send her some pictures.
She called for my advice. This was bigger than the 60-quart size she thought she’d buy, which meant it was somewhat more expensive. But it was an excellent price for such a big mixer, and she could definitely use the extra capacity. However, the mixer was so far away that she couldn’t go to see it before buying it, and the shipping could be costly. What did I think?
“Where is it?” I queried. “It’s in Miami,” she said. You’re kidding, I thought to myself. “Really?” I replied. “I’m in Miami!”
I like coincidences. I think they are deliberately created by some collection of clever entities with great imaginations who enjoy keeping our lives interesting.
And so began the Heavenly Scavenger Hunt. First, I called Dominick, owner of the mixer and now-defunct Dominick’s Pizza. He and his wife, Marcella, had closed their shop the day before and were putting everything in storage, including the mixer. But I could come see it anytime. I took the address, and Meg and I headed out to meet Dominick and Marcella at their storage facility about 30 minutes north of the city.
They were delightful and reminded me of my own Italian-American family. I got a quick rundown on their life story—how having a pizza shop for years meant never a day off, and how they were ready to take a break.
The mixer looked fine to me. They assured me it was in good shape, and they had the service records showing its maintenance history. Plus, they would include a gallon of the special oil the mixer used and all the various bits and pieces, attachments, etc. In the end, they were happy with a handshake, a $100 cash deposit, and the promise of a wire transfer from Jackie the following day.
Dominick even handled the shipping. Someone came the very next day, packed it up, and sent it on its way to Jackie’s kitchen in Holly Springs, N.C.
We stood around at the storage shed a while longer, scheming about how Dominick and Marcella might get a food truck one day so they could travel and run a restaurant only when they felt like it. And they promised to come by and visit when they passed through N.C. I was sorry to say goodbye, and I hope we meet again.
A few days later, Jackie emailed to say her mixer had arrived. Turns out, it is an older Hobart made of all metal parts, and preferable to the new ones that are now made with some plastic parts. She planned to send it off to be cleaned and refurbished so she could put it in the window when she got her retail location. She was thrilled with her new purchase.
I spoke with Jackie the other day to find out how that mixer was doing and was pleased to hear that it came back looking and working like new. And her dream of opening a retail location has come true. After operating out of her home for four years, Sweet Cheeks Bakery has opened in downtown Apex, N.C. “We’re going to try our best to bring back the traditional bakery, with baked goods as good or better than homemade,” Jackie promises. “I’m looking forward to bringing each customer a memorable moment: when they remember the taste of what their grandmother used to make!”
That certainly sounds good to me.