Just as Charleston’s exalted reputation as a foodie town inspired the Charleston Wine + Food festival, which runs through Sunday, March 4, 2018, it’s also inspired these six College of Charleston alums to make their mark in the local cuisine scene.
Brandon Belk ’07
Product: Wich Cream ice cream sandwiches, which come in four flavors – cookies & cream, mint chip, salted caramel, and Vietnamese coffee – plus two seasonal/limited edition varieties.
Year Started: 2015 with his wife, Lauren.
Retail Locations: Caviar & Bananas, Kudu Coffee, Ted’s Butcherblock and more.
Inspiration: “Our ice cream is made with all local dairy, fruit, eggs, and even salt from Bulls Bay,” says Belk. “We are inspired by the incredible ingredients available here in the Lowcountry and the farmers that work tirelessly to produce such quality.”
College Connection: “My senior capstone was Food Politics with Professor Mark Long, and it totally changed the course of my life,” says the political science major. “It directly inspired Wich Cream’s mission, which is to bring awareness and support to local sustainable food systems.”
Biggest Challenge: “Our biggest challenge as a family business is making sure we make time to unplug from all things work related.”
Biggest Joy: “Seeing the excitement that work puts on our son’s face. Plus, he has spent most of his childhood Saturdays at the farmers market and has relationships with the people that produce the food he eats.”
Future Plans: “This year we have a few new projects/offerings coming. We just started a pint club that sends our ice cream right to your doorstep and created the cream pop – an ice cream sphere on a stick.”
Grace Newland ’06
Product: Mitla Tortilleria artisan tortillas made with organic, non-GMO ingredients with no preservatives; vegan and food allergen friendly (soy-, dairy-, nut- and egg-free). Corn tortillas are gluten free, too.
Year Started: 2015
Retail Locations: The Daily, Boone Hall Farms, Veggie Bin and more, including over 15 restaurants in Charleston and Savannah.
Inspiration: “For our first wedding anniversary, my husband, Cliff, and I went to Mexico and had amazing tortillas that were unlike anything we had in the U.S.,” says Newland. “We returned to Charleston longing for authentic tortillas. I also grew more concerned about what was in my food and tortillas were one of the most processed things I was eating. Cliff and I always tossed the idea of a food business around, so we decided to make tortillas using clean, simple ingredients and traditional cooking methods we observed in Mexico.”
College Connection: “I was a corporate communication major and this was key in my previous career in PR/marketing. I worked with many new businesses including restaurants and products, so that experience was invaluable to owning my own business,” she says. “I learned about project management and strategic planning at CofC, which have been useful for running my business.”
Biggest Challenge: “Finding the initial funding to buy equipment.”
Biggest Joy: “Seeing how excited people get about our tortillas. I’ve heard the phrases ‘game changer,’ ‘addicted,’ ‘I didn’t know a tortilla could taste this good.’”
Future Plans: “I’d love to see Mitla tortillas on grocery-store shelves this year and expand our footprint in the Southeast in coming years.”
Maureen Porzio ’10 (M.B.A. ’11) and Kaitlyn Ervin ’14 (M.B.A.)
Product: Porzio’s handcrafted pizza and pasta sauces that are sugar/corn syrup and gluten free.
Year Started: 2012
Retail Locations: Seven farmer’s markets and over 25 stores, including Boone Hall Farms, The Veggie Bin and Lowcountry Street Grocery.
Inspiration: “My great-grandfather came from Naples, Italy in the late 1800’s at 14 years old with the heart of a young entrepreneur and landed in Savannah, Georgia,” says Porzio. “He started the first pizzeria in the city called Porzio’s. It closed in 1969, but I knew I always wanted to do something with the history. I just wasn’t sure what.”
College Connection: “It really was the people and professors of the College that inspired us to start our own creation, run it well and do great things,” says Porzio, who earned her undergraduate degree in business administration. “Professor David Desplaces guided me to lead an organization throughout college called SIFE- Students In Free Enterprise (now called ENACTUS). Professor Kelly Shaver was my entrepreneurship mentor and now a great friend who inspired (and continues to inspire) me to go for it. Professor Harland Hodges was instrumental in learning operations management from a business owner perspective and the importance of it. Professor Jocelyn Evans was my biggest cheerleader and was in charge of our thesis, which was to write a business plan for the business. And Professor Rhonda Mack introduced me to Kaitlyn, who was my intern and then became my business partner several years later.”
Biggest Challenge: “Loneliness, which I don’t think is discussed enough in entrepreneurship,” says Porzio. “It’s much easier to have someone there to lift you up during the struggles and also be by your side towards achieving your goals. We’re creatures of companionship, not only in life but also in work. And it’s very difficult to have a brainstorming session all by your lonesome.”
Biggest Joy: “Recreating something from over 100 years ago that we’re passionate about and being able to share it with others and see them enjoy our products with their families,” says Porzio. “I’m grateful every day and that’s what drives me to keep moving forward.” Adds Kaitlyn: “A lot of people just see a jar of sauce and my biggest joy is seeing the circle of business – having your hands in every part of the entire process, from working with local farms all the way to producing the products to interacting with our customers who enjoy them.”
Future Plans: “Last year we launched our Spread the Love campaign where we donate a meal for every jar sold,” says Porzio. “So far we’ve donated over 700 jars of sauce. We also started a new product line called Charleston Tomato Co. that allows us to be more creative and innovative with new products that are healthier options for our customers. One of our flagship products is a no-sugar added ketchup where we roast local strawberries to create a natural sweetness that tastes awesome.”
Ruchi Mistry ’12 and Tom McFall ‘12
Product: Huriyali, a sustainable, health-oriented restaurant and café that serves nutritious and fresh cold-pressed juices, smoothies, sandwiches and salads.
Year Started: 2015
Location: 401 Huger St., Charleston
Inspiration: “After graduating CofC, we travelled through India together for about a year and during the trip, Tom faced consistent malaise due to the adventurous roadside foods we were trying!” says Mistry, who was born and raised in Ahmedabad, India. “He felt one of the things keeping him moving were my mom’s fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juices. Charleston was always known for its heavy food scene and we wondered if there were more people who wanted a little healthy flair to accompany the southern classics. After working all the farmers markets selling cold-pressed juice for a year, we believed it was time to open our brick and mortar location at Huriyali Gardens.”
College Connection: “Well we both went to CofC for entrepreneurship, so all of our economic, leadership and management courses were great help. Some of our favorite professors were Howard Rudd (the dean of the business school at the time), Roger Daniels and John Martin.”
Biggest Challenge: “The growing pains from a cart selling cold pressed juice at farmers markets to opening a brick and mortar and adding a new dimension to our business. We are committed to high quality, nutritious foods, which is one thing to produce when you touch every piece of produce processed and a whole different animal when you’re managing 20 employees.”
Biggest Joy: “Uplifting our customer’s day and health by providing truly nutrient dense foods coupled with a genuinely friendly atmosphere.”
Future Plans: “Continue to grow and expand into different areas of the hospitality industry.”