By: Jill Bommarito, President & CEO of Ethel’s Edibles
Ethel’s Edibles, a gluten-free baking company, was born out of the idea that crazy good food should be available to all. Celiac disease has been in our family for over 30 years, so I was familiar with the choices and obstacles for the gluten intolerant. Our idea is to get our fresh baked goods to the customers where they shop, as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Ethel’s started as a wholesale baking company, leasing a church commercial kitchen, with just two employees. The first two months were spent obtaining wholesale, certified ingredients and packaging materials, perfecting our recipes for mass production, adding products to create a product line, calling on accounts and ultimately making our first deliveries Aug. 24, 2011 to Plum Markets, Westborn Markets and Hiller’s. It quickly became apparent that lack of space was going to be our first bottleneck. We needed to accelerate our move timeframe. Nine months from our first delivery, the property was secured for our St. Clair Shores location and the build-out began.
Never having designed a commercial kitchen, let alone worked in a commercial kitchen prior to the church, presented challenges. I was very dependent upon the city, county and Michigan Department of Agriculture, who oversees the licensing of bakeries, for their input and guidance. Every single contact at the city and government levels from St. Clair Shores, Macomb County and the Department of Agriculture, was more than willing to help in any way they could. There was not a single stumbling block for us, and for that, we are extremely grateful. We made the move the first week of December 2012, and it felt like home immediately.
Shortly after our move, the Macomb Department of Planning and Economic Development reached out to us to see how they could help. Jack Johns from their team toured our facility, then sat down and spent time going over programs, grants, and collaborative relationships that may benefit our effort. This was a whole new territory for me. Jack’s assistance and accessibility have made all the difference. We’ve applied for and received grants to add equipment that lead to increases in efficiency and production capabilities. We received coaching in hiring and training. We’re meeting with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC) to increase our lean manufacturing practices. We are getting assistance with hiring interns. Our new knowledge of Michigan Works will aid us with adding human capital. Every day presents a new opportunity.
We are looking forward to the growth opportunities for Ethel’s Edibles that lie ahead. With the collaborative efforts of Macomb County, along with the state of Michigan and City of St. Clair Shores, we feel our potential is boundless. Jack helped open doors for us. This will enable us to forge ahead this year, expand into a larger production facility and share our goodness nationwide.
About the author: Jill is President and CEO of Ethel’s Edibles, a business she founded in 2011. The idea came from Jill’s love for sharing great food, which everyone deserves to have. She has two grown children and enjoys camping and traveling with her husband and children. Ethel’s Edibles was chosen by a panel of judges as the Start-up Business of the Year at the 2014 Macomb Business Awards banquet.