A small group of entrepreneurs gathered recently to sell their goods at a drive-thru vendor fair at the University of Florida/Pasco County Extension’s One Stop Shop, at 15029 14th St., in Dade City.
Those wishing to make a purchase could swing by on Oct. 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., to order items and purchase them, from the comfort of their cars.
The idea was to support the small businesses, while providing a safe place to shop, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participating vendors included Hillbilly Farms Bakery Shops, Charm City Eats, Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, Superfood Bakeshop, and Chef Sweets of Luminous Concession.
The stories, shared by some small business owners taking part in the event, are as varied as the foods they sold.
Rhoda Mazerolle, of Hillbilly Farms Bakery, previously sold her gluten-free foods from a storefront that she operated with her husband. They have sold that store and have scaled down, but she continues to prepared wholesale foods at the SMARTstart commercial kitchen, at the One Stop Shop.
The commercial kitchen initiative is the result of a partnership between the Pasco Extension Office, which is part of the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, Pasco County and Pasco County Economic Development Council Inc., with assistance from Welbilt, an industrial kitchen company.
Amy Henninger, of Charm City Eats, is a newcomer to the Pasco County area — moving here less than two months ago.
She said the commercial kitchen allows her food truck — which specializes in authentic Maryland cuisine — to operate.
Charm City Eats offers such foods as broiled crab cakes, slow-smoked pit beef, Baltimore fried chicken, hot chicken and hand-cut fries.
Getting into the food business is a big departure for her, she said, noting she used to run a copier company in Baltimore.
But, the pandemic has been a turning point, she said.
“I’m going to be turning 40 soon, and I was just sick of the corporate world, and quotas and nonsense, and stress and all of that. I just wanted to do something different and work for myself,” Henninger said.
Plus, her fiancé loves to cook.
Like Henninger, Mary Katherine Mason Souter — who owns Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread — was greatly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, the entrepreneur said she’s had her shortbread business for years, but it was always a “very, very side hustle, hobby.”
It turned into a full-time career, she said, “100% because of COVID.”
Before turning all of her attention to running a baking company, she did interior designs and selected furniture for hotels.
That came to a halt earlier this year, when she was furloughed in April, then laid off in July.
“Since April, I have made about 5,000 pounds of shortbread,” said the baker, who uses her maiden name, Mason, on her business documents.
Her company’s slogan — “Long legs, short bread” — is a reference to her height, of 6 feet.
She’s grateful for the SMARTstart kitchen.
“Without that kitchen, I would not be able to have my business because in order to be able to ship legally and sell legally online, you have to have your manufacturing license.
“The only way you can have your manufacturing license is to have your commercial kitchen, and it has to be inspected by the Department of Agriculture,” she said.
It turns out that the kitchen is just 2 miles away from where she lives in Dade City.
Dan Mitchell, Pasco EDC’s SMARTstart program coordinator, said “the drive-thru vendor fair was a way for our community to experience the new food businesses that have been developing at the incubator.”
It also gave entrepreneurs a chance to get some feedback and hone their skills, Mitchell added.
Whitney C. Elmore, director of Pasco County Extension, said she’s proud of the vendors who produce their foods at the incubator kitchen.
“They’ve persevered during the pandemic – some had lost their job as a result and we were there, along with Pasco EDC, to provide the resources they needed to start their business,” she said.
“Our vendors provide phenomenal products,” Elmore added, “We were excited to showcase them in a drive-through vendor fair at our One Stop Shop in Dade City.”
Published November 18, 2020