Recent from Features
[box]As Elizabethtown College students become alumni and move beyond the comfortable confines of campus, many have pursued not only their areas of study but also their life’s passions. They’ve turned hobbies into a way of making a living by doing something they love. And, ever true to their alma mater’s credo “Educate for Service,” they often give back to the community by volunteering and sharing their expertise. The five alumni featured, here, are entrepreneurs in the food industry and all could be described as: passionate, hardworking, energetic, creative, dreamers, compassionate, conscientious and successful.[/box]
Winemaker Amy Zacharias Thorn ’84, who, with her husband, Jack, co-owns Thorn Hill Vineyards of Northern California, produces handcrafted artisan wines of exceptional quality. Add her two adult children to the staff, and the award-winning winery becomes a family affair.
Although their grape-growing enterprise is in Lower Lake, Calif., the Thorns call Lancaster, Pa., home, where they also own and operate a successful think tank—Distribution Business Management Association, a global supply chain management company. Running this profitable business and raising a family was just the tip of the wineglass, so to speak, for these consummate entrepreneurs. Following her “heart’s calling,” Thorn turned her oenophile hobby into an award-winning winery.
[testimonial author=”Amy Thorn ’84″]Wine brings people together and, for us, it’s been a family affair. There is no greater joy than working with your family to create something of quality that will last through future generations.[/testimonial]
“The winery came from a passion of my heart…I was an appreciator of wine since I went abroad while at Elizabethtown College,” said Thorn, who graduated with a degree in communications. “From a young age, it’s something I’ve enjoyed. It’s a hobby that my husband and I both shared. Wine appreciation sort of brought us together. I started taking classes; I did wine judging and education. So the ultimate dream, of course, was that we wanted to have this winery and produce world-class wines.”
Finding the right property, though, proved to be difficult, and the search spanned 10 years. In 2005, they purchased their “little golden vein” off highway 29—better known as the wine trail—in the Napa Valley of California. This first location met Thorn’s strict requirements of what the French call terroir—meaning absolute ideal conditions (soil, climate, rainfall, sun) to produce her high-end wines, particularly the red varietals for which Thorn Hill Vineyards is known. One of the hallmarks of Thorn Hill—and what sets it apart from other wineries in California’s Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties—is that its wines are 100-percent pure varietal. Thorn Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is a pure cabernet varietal; their pinot noir is pure pinot noir varietal; and so on. Thorn achieves great complexity and nuances in the wines by blending clones of the same grape varietal. According to Thorn, that’s quite a challenge for a winemaker but one she takes on with enthusiasm and pride. Recently, the wintery’s pinot noir was named “Top Ten in the World” at a competition held during the annual World of Pinot Noir event.
“I’m a purist in my winemaking techniques,” said Thorn. “Winemaking is so creative. It brings you in touch with nature. My job as a winemaker is to bring forth the very best of each grape varietal and craft a wine that is the fullest expression of what nature can produce.”
The Thorns have since acquired additional terroir acreage in Sonoma and Lake counties, which has expanded their wine selections to include white varietals such as chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. They have three tasting stores—two in California and one in Lancaster County, Pa., which is the first privately-owned wine store in Pennsylvania to feature California wines. Details about the vineyard and tasting room, as well as more information about where Thorn’s wine is available in local establishments are online at www.thornhillvineyards.com.
Scott Conary ’89 is president of Carrboro (N.C.) Coffee Roasters, located near Research Triangle Park (RTP). With a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, Conary followed the thriving biotechnology industry to the RTP area in 1995. However, it was his passion for outstanding coffee and his inability to find it there, that drove him to open his wholesale roastery and first shop in 1995—Caffé Driade in Chapel Hill, N.C. He’s been roasting and serving award-winning coffee ever since.
The idea behind the coffee shop—Open Eye Café in Carrboro opened in 1998—was to be exemplary. “I wanted to show what quality really is in coffee,” explained Conary. “At the cutting edge of the coffee industry, it has to be about ‘What is the quality of what I’m drinking?’ and that’s the first and most important thing. Whenever we have a decision to make, we ask ourselves ‘how will this affect the quality?’ And that guides you in what you do.”
[testimonial author=”Scott Conary ’89″]It’s all about building trust and bridges for coffee drinkers to meet the people [who] grow that coffee.[/testimonial]
According to Conary, the finest specialty coffee in the world is grown in the region on either side of the equator, known as the equatorial belt. Great coffee has the potential to be grown there due to the micro climates, elevation and other environmental factors. In his unrelenting drive to serve only the best coffee to his customers, Conary visits these countries and builds long-standing relationships with the farmers of small farms and estates who, he says “are the people most concerned with and motivated by quality.” He runs the company on this not-so-common direct relationship method and passionately spoke about the impact of this business model. “One of the things I always do when I go back to coffee growing countries is work on the education component, whether it’s teaching classes or helping them with agricultural issues. The idea is that you’re helping someone else get better and, then, you both win. They get better with what they do, more consistent and sustainable. They’re able to keep growing great coffee, and you’re able to drink great coffee year after year. It’s simple, mutual sustainability.”
Conary emphasized his role as much more than a consumer of a product. “When I go there, I’m not just there as a buyer; I want to be their partner. I want to be forming a relationship,” he said. “It’s all about building trust and bridges for coffee drinkers to meet the people [who] grow that coffee. This model is not the norm, and it’s not common. But, for me, it’s the only way to do it.”
Conary’s hard work, focus on sustainability, conscientiousness and good taste are paying off with notable recognition. Food and Wine magazine and BBC Travel recently rated Caffé Driade one of “America’s Best Coffee bars.” Food Network’s Rachael Ray even came by for visit.
Carrboro Coffee Roasters (www.carrborocoffee.com) also consults as a wholesale roastery by providing employee training, offering layout and design advice and selling and repairing equipment.
Erin Harker ’05 claims to “make whoopie” every day. Whoopie pies, that is. As the owner/baker of Makin’ Whoopie Kitchen, Harker makes the pies in her suburban Philadelphia, Pa., kitchen but, if her “Lovin’ from the oven” continues to tantalize the taste buds of her loyal customers, she’ll soon be expanding.
Now, we’re not just talking about the traditional, chocolate-cake-and-white-icing whoopie pies (although Harker offers these, too). Close your eyes and imagine the taste—red velvet cake with cream cheese filling or pumpkin cake filled with maple cinnamon cream or strawberry short cake or peaches-and-cream. Harker’s favorite flavor is banana cake with peanut butter-flavored icing, affectionately known as the “Hunka Burnin’ Love Whoopie.”
If your mouth isn’t watering yet, Harker always is working on new flavors. She spent the summer testing pies in a beachy-summertime theme. Think cool mint mojito or fresh lime margarita. Other savory combinations in the works include herbed beer bread with cheddar horseradish and bacon-jalapeno beer bread with cream cheese. E-town friends take note: A carrot cake recipe is being perfected.
According to Harker, her baking talents have deep family roots. “My sister, Katlin, and I have been baking in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother for as long as I can remember. The kitchen is a big part of my family. That’s where we spend a lot of our time.”
Since Makin’ Whoopie Kitchen’s tagline is “Lovin’ from the oven—desserts made from scratch that’ll put your momma and grammy to shame,” Harker is conscientious of buying locally. “I try really hard to stay in season with everything and use local ingredients as much as possible.”
As a true entrepreneur, Harker’s eyes are on the future. Once her operating licenses are in hand, she looks forward to selling her pies from her own food truck at locations around Philadelphia and at festivals, by mail order, at farmers markets, cafés, restaurants and, eventually, a brick-and-mortar store of her own.
Visit Makin’ Whoopie Kitchen online at facebook.com/MakinWhoopieKitchen or contact Harker at firstname.lastname@example.org. or 302-542-9897.
Move over McDonald’s, there’s a new fast food restaurant in town called BRYN and DANE’S and, by the look of the lunchtime crowd, it’s here to stay. A novel idea—Healthy Fast Food— isn’t it? Instead of fatty burgers, greasy fries and high-calorie shakes, savor free-range fresh-baked chicken wraps, sweet potato fries and dairy-free smoothies made from only one ingredient: seasonal fruit. Think young, energetic employees wearing T-shirts that state the burgeoning company’s mantra: “LOCAL, LO CAL.”
BRYN and DANE’S is the creation of Bryn Davis ’08, who discovered his desire to eat healthfully while he was a marketing student at E-town. Coming to campus 70 pounds overweight, Davis decided to drop the extra girth but had trouble finding quick, healthful eating options to fit his busy lifestyle. Since this original epiphany that created BRYN and DANE’S, it’s been Davis’ ambition and life’s work to build the concept into a national brand with thousands of locations.
The flagship BRYN and DANE’S, in Horsham, Pa., opened its doors in March 2012. Like many fast food restaurants, it’s a stand-alone building with a drive-through window, serving individual items and full meal selections, i.e., a wrap, side and a drink. What makes BRYN and DANE’S different? Every item on the menu is natural and low in calories and has no additives, chemicals, preservatives, hormones or gluten. High in fiber, low in fat, sourced locally and designed to be specifically low in calories, the menu is the perfect blend of principles for the health and weight conscious. Extensive yet simple, the restaurant’s fare tantalizes patrons with salads, wraps, small plates, fresh fries (not French fries) organic iced teas, natural sodas, fruit smoothies and plenty of healthful choices for the kids. Calories, fat, fiber and protein amounts are listed in the menu.
Living Elizabethtown’s credo, “Educate for Service,” Davis makes it his mission to educate school-age children about the benefits of eating healthfully. Preschool and elementary school kids have flocked to the revolutionary restaurant on class trips, gaining good eating habits, knowledge and a complimentary healthful lunch to support the message. Once a week, starting this month, BRYN and DANE’S is cooking up its healthful fare in the cafeteria of a local elementary school once a week. Davis gives credit to his younger brother, Dane, for helping him spread the word to this pint-sized age group. “Having an 11-year-old as a partner, we’re able to really have a good effect on a lot of the kids in the area,” enthused Davis.
Jack Clemens ’70, a member of the Elizabethtown College Board of Trustees, has loved his family business since he was a boy, stocking shelves at the first Clemens Family Market in Lansdale, Pa., during the 1950s. Throughout his long career in the food industry, Clemens, who earned his degree in business from E-town, worked in every department, managed stores and was instrumental in store development and introducing new concepts, such as prepared foods and bar code scanning to the Clemens Family Market. By the time the chain was sold in 2006—67 years after it opened its doors—Clemens had worked his way to president, CEO and chairman.
At the height of the company’s success in the early 2000s, the family-run chain of 25 grocery stores employed approximately 2,800 people. Clemens Family Markets were located in smaller towns and catered to the tastes of the community. Even as competition moved in and tried to chip away at their loyal customers, this was the secret to their success, said Clemens.
“We had to try to differentiate ourselves,” Clemens said. “Every store was basically tailored to the local community.” The concept was purposeful. “We tried to find out what was their heritage and, then, we brought that into the stores.” Clemens said they sold a lot of shoofly pies and “tons” of potato salad. “Sometimes we actually went to their churches to find out about their ethnic groups and religious—what the community was like,” he confessed. “You could tailor things that way. As we grew we didn’t want to be just a plain [chain], which does everything the same.”
As a member of the Food Marketing Institute, Clemens toured supermarkets across the country and brought inspiring ideas back to his stores. He introduced specialty foods and high-end desserts made by chefs in the Clemens’ commissary. He also believed in treating his employees well and introduced the employee stock option plan.
“Employees are very important to me and also are family members,” said Clemens. “I always figured if you treat your employees well they would treat your customers well. In the early days—when we were smaller—I, along with my father and his first cousin, who were the founders of the company, used to know every employee in the chain. But, as we grew, that became tougher. That’s where you try to instill in your management to keep that heritage going.”
Clemens and his family, long-standing members of the Church of the Brethren, managed Clemens Family Market with a religious influence. “God was our guiding force,” said Clemens. “We said prayers before meetings—from board meeting to store meetings. We prayed to him for guidance in making our business decisions.”
One of those decisions—selling the family business—certainly was difficult but, according to Clemens, the time was right to make that move. In 2006, the assets of Clemens Family Markets were sold to GIANT Food Stores, in Carlisle, Pa., and and C&S Wholesale Grocers, of Keene, N.H.
Clemens resides in Telford, Pa., with his wife, Elizabeth. Since retiring, he spends more time with his four children and seven grandchildren, travels and leaves the Pennsylvania winters for their Florida home. “Life is good,” he said.