063 – Susan Weiner, Orange Dot Baking Company
Gluten-Free Work. Welcome to a conversation about bread, community, and how one small business owner is trying to tie those two things together. Susan Weiner of Orange Dot Baking Company, with her gluten-free Major Muffins, wants to not only provide a delicious bread to folks suffering from celiac disease but also hopes to provide job training for folks in our community who so desperately need it.
Betty Hoge of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center recommended Susan and after speaking with her I’m so glad this recommendation came my way. We recorded in the conference room of the Community Investment Collaborative where Susan is a graduate, and I will be taking part in their next class series on developing a business. Can’t think of a better place to talk about food, community, and doing it your own way.
Programs like CIC can walk you through the nuts and bolts of starting a small business from the ground up. Aligning your lofty goals with the realities of running a successful business. Something Susan was driven to do as a way to give back to her community and also to make delicious bread for folks who cannot tolerate gluten. Folks like her son and herself. Despite the gluten-free backlash, there are millions of folks out there who can’t eat bread but would like to. Susan fills that gap.
And she truly does. This isn’t cardboard folks. Major Muffins have the texture of bread, the flavor of bread. On first bite I was reminded of a really great seeded whole grain. If you hadn’t told me it was gluten-free I never would’ve guessed. The Rustic Rosemary tastes great, and the Chocolate Chip made with French Callebaut chocolate? Extraordinary! Six other varieties including Everything Better, Cinnamon Raisin, and Santa Fe Savory hit every flavor profile. Great on their own or toasted. Serve with wedges of cheese. Make a sandwich. Anything you would use a seeded cracker for is a perfect vehicle.
You can find Major Muffins at many retail outlets including Hunt Country Market and Rebecca’s Natural Foods. Buy a sandwich at Bellair Market, Market Street Market, or eat one of her delicious creations (try the Figgy Piggy!) at the Charlottesville City Market. There are ten grams of protein per muffin because it’s made with high protein flours like oat flour, oat bran, quinoa, amaranth and other ancient grains. Xanthan gum and guar gum are not to be found because of its tendency to upset stomachs. Instead, she uses ground chia seed and powdered psyllium husk which adds fiber. All good stuff.
Her development process was extensive involving lots of trial and error, tastings and testings, even custom-baked pans developed by a local company working in the air and space industry! Her secret proprietary baking process is the major reason Major Muffins taste so great. Virginia Tech, a land grant institution and active leader in the local food innovation business, helped Susan with nutritional testing. Janet Dob, co-owner of The Bageladies, helped with suggestions for packaging. Pair that with Susan’s CIC training and you’ve got a company made in this region, by this region, for this region and beyond.
Orange Dot is named after the Orange Dot Report written by Ridge Schuyler and Greyston Bakery of Ben and Jerry’s fame, which has an open-hiring policy and who work to alleviate poverty in their own community. Susan envisions a similar company goal, one with a quadruple bottom line: social, environmental, financial, and nutritional. It’s a way to wrap all of her passions together into one. Ultimate goal? To have an Orange Dot Bakery in every single major American city so she can impact folks who are gluten-free as well as those who need work, providing a source of job training for those folks on the first rung of the economic ladder.
Future plans? Frozen sandwiches you can pop in the microwave, french toast, and mini-pizzas. Perfect for an instant lunch or for shipping care packages to college kids who don’t get the nutrition they need. Subscription services are the way of the future, something Splendora’s and Arley Cakes have started recently. Both companies past and future podcast guests respectively. A lactose-free version is in development. Susan would also like to get Major Muffins into restaurants. Are you listening Citizen Burger Bar?
We also talk about Susan’s other joint venture with Ian Pascarelli and Allie Hill, The Kitchen Network, a way for food businesses to rent a commercial kitchen Airbnb-style. What a fantastic idea! Forbes magazine has profiled them. The future of food business starting right here in Charlottesville.
Enjoy the ambient sounds of me chewing almost every variety of Major Muffin…then go get some for yourself. Cheers!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Scotty Nichols Cancer Fund – My best friend has cancer. Can you help? No amount is too small. Thank you.
- Virginia Festival of the Book – Food writing is my passion! Come see all the great authors 3/22-3/26/17.
- Marc Maron – He’s the reason I podcast. And my hero for his courage to get vulnerable twice a week.
- Community Investment Collaborative – Helping small business owners find their footing.
- Orange Dot Report – A report on poverty in Charlottesville and the origin of Susan’s company name.
- Ed Lee’s Mentorship Program – Chef Ed Lee is training folks who need jobs so they can work in restaurants.
- The Bageladies – Janet Dob is a wonder and mentor to Orange Dot. Hope to talk with her soon!
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