Jackson — In its third season, the Greater Belhaven Market has proven its ability to serve as a springboard for start-up businesses.
A producer’s-only, Saturday morning market, open nine months out of the year, the Greater Belhaven Market was begun as an economic development-based project of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, under the foundation’s Urban Main Street program.
The market is designed to create a neighborhood gathering place, promote the area as a viable location for retail business and serve as an incubator for small businesses.
It has done well on all three counts.
“(Several vendors have) expanded their businesses or begun new businesses due to their success at our market,” said former market director Julia Daily, who got the market off the ground three years ago. “Not all of our businesses actually started at the Market, but the Market led to greater success for them and gave some of them their first experience with retailing.”
Working their magic
Such is the case with Voo Doo Barbecue Seasonings, a homegrown, Canton-based producer of five wet and dry seasoning products. Husband-and-wife team Tim and Tanya Mitchell began the business at the Greater Belhaven Market.
“We like to compete in barbecue contests, and in 1998, we won the world championship at Memphis in May. That’s when friends started encouraging us to package our stuff,” said Tim Mitchell, the self-professed company ‘mixologist.’ “We knew we wanted to create these products, but we didn’t know how we were going to market them. Once we heard about the Greater Belhaven Market starting up, we decided to apply as a vendor. Our first retail sale was there three years ago.”
Today, the Mitchells sell five different products — two barbecue sauces and three dry rubs — at several retailers in the metro Jackson area, including BobKat’s Seafood, Mississippi Gift Company, the Inside Story, the Steak Shoppe and Big Daddy’s Seafood. There are plans to create three more dry seasoning mixes, but no plans to leave the Market as yet.
“There are opportunities out there, but we’re not in any hurry to get big,” Tim Mitchell said. “We want to keep our hands on quality control. Also, the secret to selling our product is to put the stuff in their mouth. The Market and in-store demonstrations that we do three or four times a year in our retail outlets let us accomplish this.”
Still, the Mitchells estimate the growth of their business at 20% to 25% per year since starting at the Greater Belhaven Market.
As far as future plans?
“We talk about it every once in awhile and have considered selling through an exclusive vendor, but we are also looking into opening a restaurant with a partner,” he said. “If we go that route, the restaurant would be the exclusive provider.”
Three Sisters and a Mixer
Paul Moore is the unlikely president of Three Sisters and a Mixer, based on name alone. He’s actually the son of one of the “sisters,” but the instigator for this bakery and prepared foods business that has a retail store in Flowood.
The business was begun in August 2003 when Moore, in an effort to find something for his newly-widowed mother to do, suggested she turn her love for cooking into something more.
“We started bringing our cakes, cookies and casseroles to the market and from that, business just took off,” Moore said. “We developed a large following and realized we could do this full-time.”
Open six days a week, Three Sisters and a Mixer has three full-time employees, along with Moore and his mother, Andrea Moore. But they still can be found at the Market on Saturday mornings.
“The Market showed me what people thought about the cooking we do,” Moore said. “It’s because of the Market that we got into business.”
Open less than two months, the retail location is pulling in some $3,500 to $4,000 per week and growing daily, he said. By the end of November, Moore, who was a former financial planner, estimates they will post some $30,000 to $40,000 a month in sales and hire several additional employees.
“We are looking at opening a second location next year in Madison,” he said.
One of the Market’s bigger successes is Blackwater Farms, owned by Jenny and Craig Hertel.
The Hertels began operating a grass-based farming enterprise in 2000 on property north of Meridian on Highway 59.
“Everything is raised on pasture,” explained Craig Hertel. “Our main product is pastured poultry. We don’t use any chemicals or commercial wormers at all, and we move our chickens daily to fresh pallets of grass and their diet is supplemented with an all-natural ration.”
The Hertels also sell eggs, 100% grass-fed beef, pastured turkeys and a rare heritage breed of pastured pork called Tameworth.
The Hertels put their first birds on the ground in 2000, and were selling to the local community. Upon hearing about the Greater Belhaven Market, they decided it would be an ideal place to sell their products. They became a vendor in 2003 and were an immediate hit with market-goers.
“It was phenomenal,” said Hertel. “We chose the market because it is a producer’s-only market, and that seems to attract a higher-end vendor with a higher-end clientele. We were charging $2.75 a pound for our chicken at the market, which was a lot cheaper than organic, but significantly higher than the industry charges.”
During the 2003 season, Blackwater Farms attracted a loyal following in the Jackson area and caught the eye of the management of the nearby Winn-Dixie grocery store, which now sells the Hertel’s products. Hertel hopes that by the end of the year, talks with Winn-Dixie representatives will lead to a product expansion into additional Winn-Dixie stores.
Blackwater Farms products are also available in two other area retail markets. Paul Anthony’s Butcher Market in Jackson sells its turkeys, eggs and chickens, while Ai (pronounced “eye”), a Japanese grocery store in Ridgeland, sells the company’s eggs.
Blackwater Farms also sells its products to several restaurants in the Jackson area, including Julep’s, Walkers and Keegans, and to several more in Birmingham, Ala.
“One of the top chefs in the nation, Frank Stitts, who has a best-selling cookbook out right now, is using our products in his three Birmingham-area restaurants — Chez Fon Fon, Highland and Bottega,” Hertel said. “We are also selling to another three restaurants in the same area.”
Hertel credits much of the company’s success to its presence at the Greater Belhaven Market.
“The market was instrumental,” he said. “The community supported us really well and was one of the main reasons we got into the Winn-Dixie market. It also helped us with the cash flow, which as a fledgling business you need!”
“Customers at the market allowed us to increase our production and our volume, and the people running the market were great to work with,” he added. “Greater Belhaven Market, to me, is one of Jackson’s best-kept secrets.”
In their first year of business, the Hertels sold 1,000 birds, he said, which was the maximum the USDA would allow their operation to produce. Following legislative changes, the Hertels were allowed to increase their production and this year, plan to sell some 15,000 birds, 16 head of beef cattle and 1,000 turkeys. They also have 500 egg-laying hens. Besides selling through retail and restaurants, the Hertels have made a foray onto the World Wide Web.
“We are on a site with some grass-fed beef growers,” Hertel said. “They sell beef; we sell chicken, eggs, pork and ham. We’re starting this week.”
As for the future, the Hertels are growing by bringing on small producers.
“We let them produce, and we process the product, market it and distribute it,” he said.
Blackwater Farms’ products are USDA-inspected at a processing facility in DeKalb.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.