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February 09, 1990 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UP

Tou gh Coo ki es

How local women are
turning homemade dishes
into recipes for success.

ADRIEN CHANDLER

Special to The Jewish News

W

hen Jacqueline Rid-
ley started selling
her muffins and tea
breads wholesale, one retailer
told her, "I've seen women
like you come and go." Today,
that store is one of Ridley's
accounts.
Ridley, who co-owns
Ridley's Muffins in Troy, says
her two-and-one-half-year-old
business is going great guns,
with 25 wholesale accounts,
including stores in Grosse
Pointe. Since going into
business, Ridley has learned
the business of baked goods is
not always a piece. of cake.
It would seem that making
muffins and cookies would be
almost a grandmotherly
operation. How many times
has someone said to you,
"that cookie-muffin-cake-
goodie is divine. You should
sell it. You'd make a fortune."?
Right, you think. I'll take my
mandel bread recipe and get
rich.
While it's not that easy it
can be done, with lots of
lessons learned along the
way. As Ridley and others
have found out, you have to be
a tough cookie to make it in
the wholesale baking
business. A smart cookie, too,
and have the right recipe for
success.
Both Motor City Muffins
and Ridley's Muffins were
started mostly on inspiration
and carried along by demand.
Both sprang up about the
same and have capitalized on
the trend toward eating more
healthful foods, especially in
the low cholesterol-oat bran
category. And both started as
wholesale operations. While
Motor City Muffins, founded
by sisters--in-law Susan Borin
and Joyce Sherman, has re-
mained strictly wholesale,
Ridley's partners — Jac-
queline Ridley and her
cousin, Gail Jacob, have open-
ed a retail shop but continue
to "sell out the back door" —
12,000 muffins a week.
In some cases, their pro-

24

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 1990

Joyce Sherman and Susan Bonin:
"At one point, we did everything."

ducts can be found side-by-
side on retailers' counter tops.
Not exactly a muffin war, but
certainly competitive, some-
thing Motor City and Ridley's
expect since they are corn-
peting for the same kind of
clientele — upscale, smart,
health conscious.
The competitive nature of
the wholesaling doesn't
bother these entrepreneurs.
Ridley welcomes it. "Corn-
petition is a good thing. It
means you're always looking
for a better product."
Motor City Muffins and
Ridley's are not just com-
peting with each other's
goods, but with a wealth of
choices for the consumer. A
small wholesaler can be
swallowed up, shoved right off
the shelf by the big boys, says
Ray Lahvic, editor of Bakery
Production and Marketing, an
industry trade publication in
Chicago.
"It's not just other
bakeries," Lahvic says. "They

Motor City Muffins: Healthy and kosher.

would be competing with off-
the-shelf mixes, frozen pro-
duct and in-store super-
market bakeries — that's a
big competitive area."
To succeed, Lahvic says, a
new venture must do "niche
marketing" — trade on fresh-
ness, home-baked goodness or
some other differentiation to
catch the consumer's eye and
carve out market share, ex-
pecially with something as
perishable and trendy as
muffins.
That differentiation is
essential in a business as

competitive as wholesale
baking.
"There's a certain amount
of luck involved in food novel-
ty items," says Ed King, direc-
tor of Small Business Pro-
grams at Wayne State
University. "If you put a dif-
ferent spin on it, say 10-15
percent different than
anything else on the market,
who's to say that it won't fly?"
In 1987, Joyce Sherman, a
school teacher, started ex-
perimenting with muffin
recipes. She asked her sister-
in-law Susan Bonn for an opi-

nion. Should they try to sell
the muffins? Their decision:
to go for it. "We saw a need in
Detroit for all natural baked
products," Borin says.
Without any formal train-
ing, they tested 200 blueberry
muffin recipes, lowered the
fat and sugar content, then
test marketed them at beauty
shops.
The product was a hit.
Buoyed by the response, Bonn
and Sherman began develop-
ing different recipes. By
March of that year, Motor Ci-
ty Muffins was born, with the
fledgling wholesale bakery
selling to gourmet and health
food shops.
"We didn't have the money
or the inclination to open a
retail shop," Bonn says. "It's
an easier step to start as
wholesalers."
Today, Motor City Muffins
distributes 15,000 baked
goods a week, including
sugarless, eggless, oat bran
and "heart healthy" muffins
— approved by the American
Heart Association of
Michigan — not to mention a
new cookie line out of their
commercial kitchen in
Livonia. The muffins are cer-
tified kosher.
Borin and Sherman are
much more wise to the ways
of small business than when
they started. "We had no
business experience," Sher-
man says. "Just a desire to
work for ourselves. And we
wanted to be in a business
that involved food."
Neither realized just how
consuming, demanding and
detailed the venture would be.
"A lot of it was trial and er-
ror," Sherman says. "At one
point, Susan and I baked,
sold, delivered, did the
research and development,
kept the books and paid the
bills. We did everything."
Rules and regulations
govern the production and
selling of a food product. A
license from the state Depart-
ment of Agriculture with
strict guidelines for sanita-
tion, labeling, packaging and
weight is required. For exam-
ple, if the muffin label says it

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