MADE Winners - Food And Beverage Category

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 26, 2016

Port City Java

Year established: 1995

Number of employees: 140

Top local official: Steven Schnitzler, CEO

Company description: Port City Java is a coffee shop franchise with 27 locations operating in North and South Carolina. The company also operates its own commercial roastery and distribution center to supply its cafés.

Company growth: Port City Java has added one to two new café locations each year. It plans to grow through a mix of corporate-operated and traditional franchise locations as well as nontraditional sites on college and university campuses throughout the Carolinas.

How has your product helped impact the region’s economic development? “Our cafes serve as the first choice destination for local leaders to meet, do business and ultimately improve our community … In Wilmington area, the brand employs over 200 individuals. While most of these positions are hourly baristas, we also have a staff of café managers, district managers, roasters, bakers, accountants, marketers, graphic designers, printers and franchise support staff that keep the wheels turning ... While coffee does grow locally, we do our best to work with as many local vendors as possible within the boundaries of our franchise system. The Mighty Muscadine Smoothie is made with grapes grown at Cottle Farms in Faison, N.C. In 2015, we sold 2,600 in corporate-owned stores alone. In 2012, we started carrying a retail T-shirt that uses cotton grown, picked, spinned, ginned and sewn 100 percent right here in the Carolinas. To date, we’ve sold over 5,000 of those T-shirts, which helps support farmers all over North Carolina. Since we partnered with Wilmington’s own South ‘n France Bon Bons."

What are your future goals for the product? "We’re going to continue expanding locally with corporate-owned cafes. We’ll also be exploring more traditional franchise expansion in metro areas in North and South Carolina. Adding more nontraditional franchise locations on college and university campuses in the Southeast has also been a goal of ours that is starting to bear real fruit."

Sea Love Sea Salt Co.

Year established: 2013 | Number of employees: 2

Top local official: Amanda Jacobs, owner and salt harvester

Company description: Sea Love Sea Salt Co. hand harvests and solar evaporates sea salt from the ocean waters of Wrightsville Beach. It creates culinary finishing salts in seven flavors, a cocktail salt, a food rub and three hand/body scrubs.

Target market: Chefs, both professional and at-home; natural foods and natural body products customers; stores that carry local, culinary and/or natural products; bartenders who create unique cocktails

Company growth: "We started out what would be an experiment three years ago in our backyard in a 3-foot, two-shelf greenhouse. It held six pans. After six months and success at two local farmers markets, we moved to Allens Lane, Wilmington. A friend who offered us free space in exchange for lawn mowing owned this property. We set-up a 10x10 salthouse, which we shortly outgrew as well. In May 2015, we purchased a 6-acre farm in Burgaw, N.C. Here is where we plan to grow and stay for a long time. In the future, we plan to add more salt flavors, working (slowly) on a cookbook and have a ton more expanding to do (putting in a huge garden where we will grow many of our salt ingredients (garlic, rosemary, lavender, etc), building tables for hold more evaporation pans and also getting bees this spring-think salted honey!)"

How has your product helped impact the region's economic development? "We sell to approximately 20 stores and 15 chefs. We also work with UNCW Cameron School of Business to help two interns each semester. The goal is to hire someone down the line.

What are your future goals for the product? "We look forward to expanding out product line with new flavors. We also are currently expanding outside the ILM region. We are currently in a few restaurants in Edenton, Avon, Winston-Salem and are always working on others."

The Veggie Wagon

Year established: 2009 | Number of employees: 14

Top local official:  April and Max Sussman, proprietors

Company description: A growing local market in Pleasure Island, The Veggie Wagon is open year-round. Besides selling items from area farmers and artisanal North Carolina producers, it also specializes in making all-natural items with locally sourced ingredients including cheese, pickles, ice cream, hot sauce, baked goods, breads and more.

Company growth: “We are coming up on our five-year anniversary of opening our brick-and-mortar market, and it feels like only a couple of years have gone by. As we continue to add products and diversify our offerings, we are excited to watch our business continue to grow. We are also in the process of expanding our brand to the Triangle in the next few weeks, with our brewery cooler program.”

How did you originally come up with the concept for your product? "April and Max had just moved to North Carolina from Virginia and saw a drastic need to fresh produce and better quality food options. April was teaching full time and started a roadside produce stand in Carolina Beach during the summer to make extra money. This lead to a CSA business, followed by the Carolina Beach Farmer's Market starting up. Then the opportunity presented to start The Veggie Wagon in 2010. Max and April really missed their farming families during the off season and thought Pleasure Island was ready for a year-round market. Our market would offer very affordable bottles of wine, local beers, handmade cheeses, pickles, salsas and all around fresher foods, with an emphasis on value-added products made from local farm goods."

How has your product helped impact the region’s economic development? "We believe that our products have helped impact the region’s economic development by putting more money in the pockets of our farming families on a consistent basis. We have several farmers who use high tunnels, in addition to traditional field grown techniques to grow produce. The high tunnels allow farmers to produce, all natural fruits and veggies year round without the use of chemicals. We are then able to purchase their produce and make a ready to eat product or simply offer the raw veggies directly to the customer at the peak of freshness. By being able to produce more products year round, this has not only grown our business but has allowed us to hire more employees. Approximately half of our employees live either in Carolina Beach or Kure Beach."

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