Food Chain: Alums Find Fulfillment in Edible Endeavors

White wine, soup, noodles, steak, peanut butter, yogurt, black coffee

They inhabit just about every corner of the food production and distribution infrastructure鈥斕荫缜 alums are feeding their passions while feeding their communities.

We checked in with a handful of farmers, bakers, baristas, chefs and specialty food mavens on their efforts to cultivate the earth and their creative entrepreneurial endeavors.

Beth Gerken Hooten 鈥84

Glen Oaks Farm

Growing up on her father鈥檚 beef cattle farm, Beth Gerken Hooten 鈥84 never imagined she would someday follow in his footsteps. When his health began to decline, she and her husband, Jim 鈥83, took over day-to-day operations at Glen Oaks Farm, caring for their small herd on 40 acres of farmland outside of Carrboro, North Carolina. A typical day鈥檚 work for the Hootens includes feeding and watering each cow and, with the help of a veterinarian, helping to deliver 70-pound calves, many of which will be sold to other cattle farmers as breeding stock or beef. Her work gives Hooten a way to honor her father鈥檚 legacy while forging intimate connections with her animals and the land. 

鈥淚t鈥檚 important to learn from the folks who were here before us,鈥 she says. 鈥淲e are simply stewards of this land, and we try to always look seven generations back and seven generations forward. I鈥檓 only here for a short while, and I must do what I can to make sure these resources are here for the people who come after me.鈥

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Harry Hamil 鈥69

Morning Chorus Farm

The first farmer in his family in over 150 years, Harry Hamil 鈥69 first ventured into agriculture with the help of his wife, Elaine, who passed away in 2017. For over a decade, they co-owned and operated the Black Mountain Farmers Market, a store run in conjunction with the local tailgate market to sell fresh produce and plant starts. Eager to escape the rapid growth of the Asheville area, Hamil purchased a house, several properties and a 7-acre farm in Rural Retreat, Virginia, enough land to house and support 2鈥3 farmers at a time. In 2021, he met Helen Beamer, a local cattle farmer who has lived and worked on her late husband鈥檚 Eona Farms since 1960. The two were married last summer. With his farmland and her 45-acre cow-calf operation, they鈥檙e working to build a flourishing farm that will pass on to the next generation. 

鈥淎griculture has been dominated by a get big or get out mentality,鈥 he says. 鈥淟ack of access to farmland is the single biggest stopping point preventing people from becoming successful farmers. Part of my mission is helping those people get access to land so they can thrive.鈥

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Karis Stucker 鈥18

Karisbakes.com

When Karis Stucker 鈥18 first took up baking in 2019, watching the Great British Baking Show helped her refine her technique. That year, she set a goal to sell 10 cakes and launched her home baking business. When a friend contacted Stucker about a call for contestants for season six of the Great American Baking Show, she couldn鈥檛 resist. An application, a couple of interviews and a casting audition later, she was on her way to London to face judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith in the big white tent. Her experience on the show brought new skills and exposure, and she continues to craft cakes and pastries on her blog Karisbakes.com.

鈥淲hat I enjoy most about baking is how therapeutic it is,鈥 Stucker says. 鈥淢ixing ingredients together, artfully decorating the bakes and working with my hands, it all brings me an inner calm that is hard to describe.鈥

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Mark Overbay 鈥98

Big Spoon Roasters

Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Zimbabwe, Mark Overbay 鈥98 missed the taste of good, natural peanut butter鈥搒o he made his own. With hand-crushed local ground nuts, salt, honey and coconut oil, it was one of the best things he鈥檇 ever tasted. Back in Durham, North Carolina, he and his wife, Megan, saw an opportunity to bring their love of the rising craft food movement to the world of nut butters. In 2010, their Peanut Pecan Butter caught the attention of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine magazines, and the demand for their products began to climb. In 2012, Overbay quit his day job to focus full-time on Big Spoon Roasters.

鈥淲e set out to make incredible products, but also to create the kind of business that represents the values we want to see in the world,鈥 Overbay says. 鈥淚鈥檓 especially proud of our intentional approach and our focus on sustainable growth, one customer relationship and team member at a time.鈥

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Ashley Mincey 鈥11

Envie by Mincey

Before launching her own brand, private chef and freelance culinary artist Ashley Mincey 鈥11 did it all鈥搘orking back of house in restaurants, bartending, cooking for celebrity clients as a corporate chef, even competing on season nine of MasterChef. Now, Envie by Mincey gives her the creative freedom to experiment with new recipes (Thai green curry mussels and rigatoni pasta from scratch are two current favorites) and share them with her growing online community. When she isn鈥檛 making video content for her audience, Mincey also caters for small groups, speaks at cooking events and hosts virtual classes for a variety of clients.

鈥淓ducating others is one of the most beautiful things about having my own culinary brand,鈥 Mincey says. 鈥淓nvie by Mincey allows me to use my culinary skills and my degrees in education. It brings me so much fulfillment and joy to help people gain confidence in the kitchen.鈥

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Brian Helfrich 鈥07

Summit Coffee

With 13 locations throughout North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and six more expected to be open by the end of the calendar year, Summit Coffee is no longer just the little spot on the corner of Main Street 桃瘾社区鈥搕hough it is still that, too. Underway now is Summit Farms, also located in 桃瘾社区, which will serve as the permanent home for the company and is anchored by a new roasting and baking headquarters. It also will include a brewery, a farm-to-table restaurant and a three-acre organic farm. While Helfrich and his team considered various locations, Helfrich says a 桃瘾社区 location is most true to the brand鈥檚 core and authentically who they are.

鈥淏eing part of a community that I鈥檝e now lived in for more than half my life and that we have such an affinity for is not something I take lightly. It鈥檚 a culture, and that鈥檚 because of the people,鈥 Helfrich says. 鈥淚f I鈥檝e done one thing well in 12 years of running Summit, I鈥檝e managed to recruit and retain people who are just as excited about Summit as I am.鈥

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Virgil 鈥80 and Carolyn Fludd

Revival Wine & Dessert Bar

March 21, 2024, marked the soft opening of Revival Wine & Dessert Bar in Fayetteville, Georgia. Business partner spouses Virgil 鈥80 and Carolyn Fludd were most nervous about working the point-of-sale system. With more than a 100 wines and desserts made by executive pastry chef Carolyn, they hope the space brings to their downtown a gathering point that will stay open late and build community, set in a 170-year-old home on the historical registry. Carolyn鈥檚 parents owned a bar when she was growing up, and she saw how it created community. As the couple became empty nesters, she decided to give it a whirl and found the perfect business partner in her husband.

鈥淲e鈥檝e been in this community for so long, and it鈥檚 no longer a sleepy town,鈥 Carolyn says. 鈥淭here are breweries popping up everywhere, and a friend mentioned that we didn鈥檛 have a wine spot. Pairing it with desserts was just the perfect idea. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming.

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Ian Sheridan 鈥07

Bangbelly

Ian Sheridan 鈥07 has come a long way from cooking pork low and slow for his 桃瘾社区 fraternity brothers, but the Canada native held onto the North Carolina connection when he returned home after college. Following a few years in sales and marketing, Sheridan decided he either wanted to go to culinary school or become a golf pro. Food won. He worked his way up at the exclusive Fogo Island Inn, where he met his partner, and together they opened Bangbelly Bistro in Newfoundland, Canada. Often featured on the menu is a rack of ribs with a smoky, sweet Carolina-inspired sauce. Recently, the pair opened Punch Buggy Pizza & Coffee Co., Bangbelly鈥檚 鈥淟il鈥 Sis,鈥 as the website explains.

鈥淚t is a seasonal business, so we鈥檙e open from the end of April until late October, and we鈥檝e afforded ourselves the privilege of time,鈥 Sheridan says. 鈥淭he restaurant business is cut-throat, and margins are razor thin, so choosing to invest in our own time and happiness is important. One off-season we went to India. Another year, we drove around Morocco and Egypt. This year, it鈥檚 Panama. This is contentment.鈥

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Lita Dwight 鈥89

Brytlife Foods and the Flying Goose Tavern

Lita Dwight 鈥89 worked as an investment management attorney in NYC for many years and continues her legal work as in-house general counsel for a company in the Hudson Valley. Outside of her day job, Dwight learned about healing with food; the itch to create and her interest in health and nutrition led to a new endeavor: Brytlife Foods, featuring dairy-free yogurts and cheeses鈥揷ashew-based bleu chyz, xtra sharp chedyr, moxyrella and tofu-based to鈥檉eta. Just this year, she and a few business partners also opened the Flying Goose Tavern, a bar that will soon feature cheese plates from Brytlife. But don鈥檛 worry鈥搕here are 鈥渞egular鈥 cheeses on the menu, too.

鈥淚t鈥檚 funny,鈥 Dwight says. 鈥淣o one in my family is entrepreneurial at all, and all I want to do is create businesses. I鈥檓 still very interested in health and naturopathic medicine. Maybe my next thing will be a juice bar or a wellness clinic.鈥

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Eric 鈥03 and Rebekah Rush McKay 鈥03

Hardywood

Eric McKay 鈥03 and his childhood best friend operate two Richmond, Virginia, locations of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. In 2022, a pizza kitchen was added to the downtown taproom. Like their beer, the pizza showcases local ingredients with seasonally appropriate special releases. Eric鈥檚 favorite? The one featuring local sweet corn and Virginia blue crab. Back in 2011, Hardywood introduced the first commercially brewed Gingerbread Stout, which has earned a World Beer Cup award and a perfect 100 rating by BeerAdvocate鈥搃t remains one of the top consumer rated milk stouts in the world. This year, Hardywood鈥檚 Holiday Gift Pack of four different variations of the Original Gingerbread Stout will be distributed in over a dozen states, from coast to coast.

鈥淥ur industry faced a challenging few years of pandemic-induced macroeconomic headwinds, which was tough for Hardywood,鈥 McKay says. 鈥淏ut our team has done a great job adapting to new normals, and we鈥檙e back in growth mode.鈥

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This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2024 print issue of the 桃瘾社区 Journal Magazine; for more, please see the 桃瘾社区 Journal section of our website.