Carey M. Hamilton Sr. said it was NJBIZ’s inaugural FoodBizNJ event on Nov. 2 in Somerset that put his small business, Carey’s Gourmet, on the map.
The long lines at his booth that day — full of repeat taste testers — spoke volumes to those in attendance.
“It was an amazing success for my collard green spring rolls,” Hamilton said.
But it wasn’t the first time his delicious recipe would tantalize the right taste buds.
Hamilton, co-owner, CEO and president of Carey’s Gourmet in Trenton, is a lifelong Newark resident who has worked in the food and beverage industry for 30 years in various roles, from busboy to food and beverage director.
After founding A Taste of Soul catering in 1990, Hamilton and his wife, Jennifer Hamilton, found that there was always one clear-cut, stand-out product, always in demand.
“The collard green spring rolls emerged as an item that (our clients) kept asking for,” Jennifer Hamilton, co-owner and chief operating officer of Carey’s Gourmet, said.
At one point in time, Carey Hamilton’s recipe even caught the attention of grocery chains such as A&P and ShopRite, which had requested to carry the product years ago.
“That is a wonderful situation to be in — but you have to have able to meet their demand,” he said.
“And we didn’t know beans about how to do that,” Jennifer Hamilton said.
So, the duo set about receiving financial support and training from organizations such as the Greater Newark Enterprise Corp. and Rutgers University to develop their business, marketing and scalable production plans in 2013.
Collard greens — a health-conscious staple in traditional southern American cooking — are detoxifying, anti-inflammatory and rich in vitamins A and K.
Carey M. Hamilton Sr. said that after he and his wife, Jennifer Hamilton, listened to the level of interest from the panels and speakers at FoodBizNJ, they plan to make the nutritional value of Carey’s Gourmet collard green spring rolls even more prominent in their marketing than ever before.
“We had to stop being full-time caterers in order to learn how to become food manufacturers,” Jennifer Hamilton said.
Three years and a $5,000 interest-free Kiva Zip loan later, the Hamiltons were ready for the next level.
A Taste of Soul officially became Carey’s Gourmet after developing a line of collard green spring rolls last year.
The startup food manufacturer currently produces three all-natural and preservative-free types of spring rolls: original (vegetarian); barbeque turkey; and smoked salmon.
The Hamiltons simmer and wrap the savory, seasoned collard greens in traditional Chinese spring roll wraps in a shared kitchen in Trenton to create the unique fusion of Asian and southern American flavors.
They then bulk package 72 frozen, 1-ounce pieces and sell them at about $90 each.
The only issue is that the process currently requires a three-week lead time. That’s not cutting it for the local restaurants and major food service companies that are currently waiting to sign contracts with them.
“The demand for the product has required our full attention,” Carey Hamilton said.
What the small, minority- and woman-owned business said it needs now is a co-packer and a distributor in order to meet the demands.
Biz in brief
Company: Carey’s Gourmet
Executives: Co-owners Carey M. Hamilton Sr., CEO and president, and Jennifer Hamilton, chief operating officer
Revenue: Undisclosed; the startup is currently seeking a co-packer and a distributor in order to meet demand.
“We need to sit and talk with folks who have gone through mass production of a food product,” Carey Hamilton said. “Then, we would be better able to multiply our recipe to meet the demand for supermarkets, and, ideally, major sports and concert arenas.”
They met Damon Riccio, an account executive for NJBIZ, at an event for the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Bai Brands plant in Trenton.
“When he told us NJBIZ was hosting an event that would bring together food entrepreneurs, buyers and investors, we said, ‘We’re in,’” Jennifer Hamilton said.
“This was the first event we had been a part of where we actually had people in the food and beverage industry trying our collard green spring rolls,” Carey Hamilton said. “We even had two caterers approach us at the event to ask about selling our product.”
The duo also spoke with Sam Schatz, director of corporate development at AeroFarms, who invited them to tour its facilities in Newark to talk about ways they might work together to make the collard green spring rolls more cost-effective. Right now, it costs about $35 to make about 175 pieces just for the raw cost of the collard greens themselves.
“We also have had meetings with one of the major sponsors of the event, a law firm, to talk about trademarking our logo and recipe,” Carey Hamilton said. “It was really overwhelming for us to see just how well our products were received.”
“We received tremendous support and responses from the attendees who tasted our product and said, ‘This is what you need — let’s talk,’” Jennifer Hamilton said.
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On Twitter: @megfry3