With $4,750 in cash, Jennifer Bryington of JB Cakes can “whip up a batch of happiness” for her future customers.
The energetic and engaging Unionville baker convinced a panel of judges that hers was the business to back at last week’s Quad County Business Summit pitch competition.
One business venture from each of the four counties presenting the fourth annual event—Orange, Greene, Louisa and Fluvanna—had five minutes to make their pitch for the cash in the summit’s initial Quad Tank Pitch Competition modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television show.
Bryington, an Orange County native, wants to expand her home-based bakery business—JB Cakes—to a storefront operation and sandwich shop in Rhoadesville. Chris and Jeanette Curtis, of Blue Ridge Coffee Crafters, wanted to grow their niche, fluid, hot air roasting operation in Greene County. Amy Myers was seeking the seed money to buy land to brand and broaden her Local Eats farm-to-table restaurant and grocery in Fluvanna County. Team members from Southern Revere Cellars—a proposed farm brewery and event-based business in Louisa—made their pitch to help get started on their $1.25 million venture.
In the end, the judges—Halo Top Creamery founder (and Greene County native) Doug Bouton, Dominion Energy Senior Economic Development Market Specialist Will McCausland and Small Business Development Center State Director Jody Keenan—tabbed Bryington’s pitch worthy of the $4,750 cash prize.
“These were all fantastic presentations,” McCausland said before announcing the winner. “We can tell you each know your business, you love your business. You came prepared. We debated back and forth. It was very, very close, but the winner is JB Cakes.”
The announcement capped off a successful event presented by the economic development offices in each of the participating counties that offered local business leaders an opportunity to connect, learn and prosper.
“We think the summit was very successful,” Orange County Economic Development Director Phil Geer said. “We’ve received a great deal of verbal feedback and all has been positive.”
He said Bouton’s “business success story” question-and-answer session seemed to really connect with people in attendance. “The level of success he’s achieved, especially being from the area, is certainly inspiring to our target audience for the summit.”
More than 180 participants signed up to attend the event hosted by Madison on the Mill in the silk mill complex on Madison Road in Orange.
The summit opened with lunch from Real Food in Orange and keynote speaker comedian Brett Leake who reminded the audience that “fun gets work done.”
Following Leake’s laughs, participants attended break-out sessions on: talent attraction and retention, social media marketing and business survival strategies.
Between scheduled sessions, participants met with more than a dozen exhibitors, vendors and agencies.
Geer moderated a “business success story” question-and-answer session with Bouton, who said he developed the recipe for Halo Top’s healthy ice cream in his kitchen “with a $20 Cuisinart ice cream maker.”
“It was only after we created the product that we realized we had something we could market and sell,” he said.
Bouton talked about finding success—not by creating the world’s largest pint-sized ice cream company, but by pursuing his dream of working for himself and not being part of the rat race.
He talked about developing and tweaking the healthy lifestyle product to make it sustainable and marketable and the lean times when he feared it might never make it as a business enterprise.
Bouton talked about his marketing and funding strategies, noting, “cash is gold for start-ups. He said the business “caught a couple of good breaks” along the way and talked about the growth of the brand from Los Angeles and the west coast, to the western United States before ultimately landing in national retailers such as Kroger and Whole Foods. When Walmart began carrying Halo Top, Greene County’s Ruckersville store was one of the nation’s top selling locations, he said.
Halo Top is now sold internationally, in 29 countries worldwide.
“I’m from Greene County,” he said. “I didn’t even have a passport growing up. We took vacations to Virginia Beach.”
Now, the law school graduate and business innovator and executive lives in Chicago with his family and recently sold the United States and Canadian distribution rights to Halo Top to Wells Enterprises which produces Blue Bunny Ice Cream.
Looking ahead, Bouton said he’s considering whether or not he can apply the same principles of Halo Top to other “permissable indulgences” such as frozen pizzas, cheesecake or candy bars.
When Geer asked him to offer advice to fellow entrepreneurs and business leaders in the audience, Bouton said simply, “I’m just a guy. There’s no magic pill. Those who act like there’s no luck involved in success are doing a disservice.” He said as a task-oriented person, he assessed the challenges he faced in business, prioritized them and started completing them before looking up and reassessing the situation.
His success and honesty were a fitting prelude to the Quad Tank Pitch Competition that would follow.
In her winning presentation, Byrington said she had grown her home-based bakery business 400 percent in three years and had exceeded her capacity at home.
“To bring people into the doors, we know that baked goods are great, but most people get them for special occasions. People eat sandwiches daily,” she said.
Bryington said she studied the logistics of the community and identified a need for both food and fun in her area of Orange County. A bakery at the county’s eastern end folded and there aren’t any nearby made-to-order lunch options available in her market.
She said she wanted to create an environment where people can gather for book or Bible groups, get a sandwich and a sweet treat, share a cup of coffee and enjoy the benefits of regionally elusive high-speed internet.
She told the judges, “I am an upscale bakery,” noting she made the cupcakes, cookies and brownies at Wednesday’s summit. “You’re not just getting a run-of-the-mill dessert. I believe in a ‘wow’ factor and when you walk away from JB Cakes you have that ‘wow’ factor.”
If she were to win, she said, she planned to use the funds to help purchase commercial baking equipment to improve productivity—including an 80-quart mixer “I can dump a 50-pound bag of flour in and work up a batch of happiness in moments.”
Later, Bryington said the competition was “exciting and crazy” and she was really impressed by each of the proposals. “I wish we all could have won,” she said. “Everyone did such a good job.”
She already has much of her storefront at Lafayette Station completed, pending final cosmetic touches. She plans for the sandwich and coffee shop area to be up front with display cases of baked goods, with the commercial kitchen in the rear of the 3,000 square-foot store. She plans to be open in six weeks. Monday morning, she was shopping for cabinets and furniture for her new store.
Geer said the QuadTank competition was well-received by those participating and attending.
“We’re excited to grow the QuadTank and hopefully continue to grow our sponsorships to make the grand prize even bigger next year,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve, so if anybody has comments or suggestions on the entire summit, we’d love to hear them.”