NEW YORK — In the specialty food industry, a sofi Award is as prestigious as an Oscar. Carrie Bailey-Morey has won so many, she lost count.
“I’m not exactly sure, but I want to say it’s 15,” said Ms. Bailey-Morey, who founded Callie’s Charleston Biscuits with her mother, Callie, in 2005. “We had to build new shelves in our main bakery because we ran out of room” for the statuettes, designated each year at the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show.
At this year’s event, held June 25-27 in New York, Callie’s received three sofi Awards, including a gold award in the savory appetizer, soup, stew category for black pepper bacon biscuits. In the baked good category, Callie’s country ham biscuits snagged a silver award, and the brand’s sharp cheddar biscuits won the new product award.
“There’s no better accolade than to be acknowledged by your peers, and it just means so much,” Ms. Bailey-Morey told Food Business News. “Not many people know outside of this specialty foods world what a sofi is, but we all know, and we’re extremely proud of our sofis.”
The secret to the brand’s success, she said, is the difference in quality of a handmade biscuit compared with a store-bought variety. At Callie’s baking facility in Charleston, a small team produces 2 million biscuits each year by hand.
“Most people eat biscuits that come in a can that they pop open and throw in the oven, and they are mediocre at best,” Ms. Bailey-Morey said. “That has always been my goal, to retrain people that this is actually what a biscuit should taste like.”
That obsession with quality has stifled the company’s growth, she admitted. Callie’s has distribution on-line and in 350 retail outlets nationwide, mostly independent specialty food stores as well as several regional chains. The business, Ms. Bailey-Morey said, is growing in a mindful way.
“I think that is what sets us apart from a lot of businesses that start out small and then try to figure out how to make more, faster,” she said. “We feel it’s most important to stick with what got us here and to stay true to the recipe because there really is a difference between a handmade biscuit and a machine biscuit. We test that all the time because we’re always wondering how we can do this in a machine, but it has not proven to be a tasty option for us.”
Ms. Bailey-Morey’s mother developed the original, painstaking recipe, which gained fame in the local community.
“She always made these incredible country ham biscuits, which in the South, are at every party, so that’s not so novel,” she said. “But the way she did it with the chopped ham and whipped Dijon mustard butter inside of a cheese biscuit was distinctively different. …
“I somewhat convinced her that this might be a good business idea. She reluctantly went into business with me, and I said, ‘You just make the biscuits, and I’ll sell them and do all the marketing.’ We went along for a couple of years, and she realized that was not what she wanted to do. She retired, and I took over the business, and that’s when we started selling to specialty food stores and on-line.”
Soon after, Ms. Bailey-Morey began developing additional biscuit varieties, including her favorite, a bacon biscuit.
“It took a lot of testing and a lot of eating before coming to the perfect recipe,” she said. “It has all-natural, hormone-free bacon that we roast in house and add spices and brown sugar to, then we chop it and fold it into a buttermilk biscuit dough and add freshly chopped green onion. We top the biscuit with a topping that consists of salt, pepper and turbinado sugar to give it texture and sweet and salty pop.”
The brand is introducing a new iced blueberry biscuit, featuring a sprinkling of sugar and a packet of icing. The product was inspired by a popular menu item at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit bake shops, a small chain of grab-and-go eateries with two locations in Charleston and one in Atlanta. Ms. Bailey-Morey opened the first shop a couple years ago in response to on-line customers seeking the brand’s fresh-baked biscuits in area restaurants.
“Most people start the other way around; they have a brick-and-mortar, and then they add an on-line business,” she said. “The one question we kept getting over and over again was, ‘When we come to visit Charleston, where can we get your biscuits hot?’ It set me out on a mission to meet with restauranteurs in Charleston and try to figure out how to, in a food service way, provide these biscuits so they could have Callie’s Biscuits on the menu.
“We could never figure out how to make it work, whether it was a price thing or the chef not wanting to have someone else’s bread in their kitchen. It made me think, ‘We need to have our own shop’… and it needed to be this tiny little space that’s all walk-in and takeaway business.”
On the menu at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit shops are hot and buttered classic biscuits, including buttermilk and cheese and chive, and filled biscuits, such as country ham, blackberry and cinnamon. Customers also may order a pimento cheese sandwich or a bowl of grits.
“It has exceeded my dreams and has been a fun creative outlet for me as well,” Ms. Bailey-Morey said.
In addition to a broad assortment of biscuits, Callie’s on-line store at calliesbiscuits.com sells pimento cheese, cocoa and cream cookies and cheese crisps, all made in-house, as well as co-branded jams by local producers in Georgia and South Carolina.
“As we kept getting more and more popular for holiday gifts … my goal was then not just to be the best biscuits in the country but a destination for a unique handmade gift that was Southern influenced,” Ms. Bailey-Morey said. “This year, we’re bringing out some whipped butter, which is a new thing we make for our Hot Little Biscuit shops, so it seems appropriate to offer to our on-line customers. We’re also offering some of our housemade pickles and pickled okra, which we make for Hot Little Biscuit.”
In addition to running the business, Ms. Bailey-Morey offers baking space and mentoring to small artisan food companies, acting as a consultant to entrepreneurs and advising on anything from regulations and production to marketing and growth strategies. She also is a guest lecturer at the College of Charleston School of Business, where she presents an entrepreneurship class, and she leads “biscuit bootcamp” retreats for corporations and associations.“When you think you can’t work any harder, you’re going to need to continue to work, and if you’re still interested in doing it, then you’re in the right business and you need to go for it because it never really ends,” she said. “My poor husband and three children live the biscuit world with me. The good and the bad of that is I feel blessed that I love what I do, and I’m extremely passionate about it, but the bad side of that is it never ends. Whether you’re in Italy or Mexico on vacation, you’re still thinking about biscuits. It’s little bit of an addiction.”