All it took was one Saturday morning trip to the grocery store and Erica Barrett never thought about breakfast the same way again.
She had been trying a new pancake recipe for herself and her husband and headed to the grocery store to grab the ingredients she needed. “I was thinking to myself in the middle of shopping, ‘Why do I have to grab so many ingredients? Why is there nothing creative in the breakfast aisle.’ It was so lacking in inspiration,” Erica said.
“There are 20 aisles that have dinner options. From mashed potatoes and gravy to taco seasonings, to tomato sauce and pasta,” she said. “But, breakfast isn’t even two aisles. It’s just cereal and granola bars.”
“I just thought, ‘I need to do something. I need to something really different,” she said. “And, I decided to start with pancakes.”
Boy, did she. Now the founder and CEO of Southern Culture Artisan Foods, a gourmet breakfast line, Erica has taken the blah out of breakfast. Southern Culture currently offers three scrumptious pancake mixes in its ShortStacks pancake mix line—vanilla, bourbon salted pecan and banana pudding. Her pancake mixes feature organic ingredients and all boast Non-GMO Project certification. Not exactly your typical breakfast fare.
A recipe for success
After that uninspired trip to the grocery store, Erica kept thinking about that pancake recipe she had wanted whip up for her husband. “I wanted to throw some pecans in there. I just wanted to make it special and I’m thinking “Why can’t I buy something already like this?” From there the idea stuck with her like pancake batter to an ungreased skillet.
“I googled ‘flavored pancake mixes’ and the only things that came up were ‘7-grain’, ‘multigrain’ and ‘chocolate chip’,” she said. “Well, chocolate chip has been around forever. I wanted different types of flavors versus the typical Bisquick or Bob’s Red Mill that’s just a flour mixture,” she said. “They’re just plain and boring. I wanted to do something totally different. And, it’s been one heck of a ride.”
After starting to develop the pancake mix recipes in July of 2011, Erica went for it. She started her own company, finalized the recipes and packaging and started showcasing at trade shows and special events.
The best ingredients
Part of what makes Erica’s pancake mixes so special is the quality of the ingredients that go into them. “I eat very high quality food and I don’t mind paying for great things that go into my body,” she said. “So for me, having organic ingredients and just the full package of something that represents high quality meant a lot to me.”
From pure vanilla sourced from New Guinea and Madagascar to fresh freeze-dried bananas and ingredients picked up at local farmers markets, a lot of care has gone into sourcing excellent ingredients for the pancake mixes.
“With our bourbon salted pecan flavor, we use a small food producer that makes Kentucky bourbon salt. So, we use really really good sea salt to roast the pecans,” Erica said. “It’s not just your regular salt that you can go and buy on the grocery shelf. It makes us stand out and people taste it every single time.”
Unlike the other pancake mixes lined up on grocery store shelves, ShortStacks pancake mixes contain only select ingredients—no powdered milk or eggs in sight.
“I had to make a really tough decision in the beginning about whether I wanted to put powdered buttermilk and powdered eggs in the mixes and just let people add water,” she said. “Because we live in a country where people want to do things quick and they want to do it fast.”
But, Erica realized that not doing that is what makes her different from any other pancake company. “We decided not to add dairy to our products because we wanted to be versatile and be something that stood out to people,” she said. “Vegans can do our vanilla flavor. They can do our bourbon-salted pecan. I wanted something that could appeal to the masses.”
All three mixes contain simple ingredients including organic flour, organic sugar, leavening (monocalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, cornstarch) baking soda, salt, and any additional ingredients that make the mix its own unique flavor.
“Eating the best food is just something I live by every day. Not having hormones. Not having things that are genetically modified,” she said. “Even though we have a pancake mix, the only processing that we have is putting it in a mixer and combining the ingredients together for our customers. Nothing else is processed. It’s all pure.”
“What I want people to know is the whole purpose of me being here is to help them find viable, great food solutions and not feel like this is what the grocery industry has to offer and this is what you have to take.”
A taste of the South
Part of striving to make her products high quality meant simply sticking to her roots. “I decided to name my company Southern Culture because I’m from the South. I’m from a town called Mobile, Alabama. And, Southern culture to me means something that’s made from scratch,” she said. “Something that’s pure. Something that’s made with a lot of love and made with your heart.”
That made-from-scratch taste stands as the backbone for her company. “I wanted something that a chef would love. Something that a foodie would love,” she said. “And, with me being Southern, I wanted to go back to my roots, which is the South and where I got started, she said. “And, I got started making breakfast.”
Since she was nine years old Erica loved being in the kitchen. “I started cooking at a young age and breakfast is one of those things where it’s probably the most approachable,” she said. “You know, you probably start making scrambled eggs first versus trying to fry chicken.”
Her early start with food coupled with her firsthand observations of grocery stores’ lacking breakfast aisles created the right mixture to build her business.
“I just saw the opportunity there to really be creative and inventive and grow that category. I wanted to do something different.”
Looking to the future
Besides her goal to obtain USDA organic-certification within the next year, Erica is looking to expand the breakfast line into other breakfast products.
“We want to do flavored French toast mixes where people can take the blend and make fresh French toast with really cool flavors that they can play with,” she said. “We also want to do bacon rubs where people can dry rub their bacon to give it flavor.” “We just really want to elevate breakfast to the next level,” she said.
It all works out
As a first generation college student, Barrett skipped out on her dream of culinary school in favor of a degree in business finance. “It was a really big deal for me to go to a four-year university and get a traditional degree,” she said. “Culinary school kind of faded to the back of my mind.
After jumping in and starting Southern Culture, she doesn’t regret her decision. “I’ve learned that culinary school doesn’t teach you how to cook. It teaches you technique, and you really have to have the heart to go out there and do what you want to do.”
“I just wondered, ‘What can I do with food?’ And this is my way of proving to myself and other people that there is a place for me with food,” she said. “I learn that every day when people say, ‘Hey, I love your product.’”
Keep up with Erica and Southern Culture Artisan Foods on Facebook and Twitter @socufoods. If you decide to test out the ShortStacks pancake mixes, here’s a fun tip from Erica:
“Whenever you’re making our pancake mixes, it’s always good not to over mix. Lumps are good. A lot of people try to make batter really smooth. I’ve learned from baking cakes and doing a lot of baking over the years that lumps are good. It helps the pancakes become light and fluffy. Leave those lumps in there.”
Photos courtesy Erica Barrett
Keep up with Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson, Google+ and Pinterest.