Carol Austin began making bread at an early age with her family. After she found out that she had Celiac Disease – a condition where the body cannot digest gluten, commonly found in flour and related bread products, healthily – later in life, her heart melted as she realized that she would no longer be able to eat the bread she had spent a lifetime making for herself and for her family. However, through faith and perseverance, she began to experiment with her family’s recipe in order to enjoy the simple things in life like homemade bread. That’s when she and her husband, Rick, decided that this may actually be a good family business, while helping others in a similar position be able to share in that enjoyment.
In early 2013, Carol and Rick participated in the inaugural Alabama Food Entrepreneurship Conference, a collaboration between units of the Food Systems Institute at Auburn University, the Alabama Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network – through the Auburn University SBDC – and other similar groups to educate small food-based product entrepreneurs on the business aspects of starting this type of business, health and safety regulations and labeling requirements. There they met with Alabama SBDC Network Business Advisors from Birmingham and Auburn to discuss their concept – Magnolia Bread Company – particularly about business and strategic planning as well as potential commercial kitchen space in the Birmingham-area. From there the Network worked with the Austin’s to explore their options – whether to lease space, find co-op style space or to build a kitchen of their own – as well as explore product placement. Through an ongoing dialogue with the Network, Magnolia Bread Company, LLC, officially launched in the spring of 2013.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Carol and Rick began selling not only their gluten free bread adapted from their family recipe, but also the original, which was well received by the local community – particularly those with gluten-intolerance – which brought back fond memories of enjoying their grandmother’s homemade bread or those who never have had a chance to make various recipes that call for bread-based products, while the couple sought audiences with major grocery players in the area. Eventually, through the Network’s assistance, Magnolia Bread found its way into various organic-style boutique stores in the Birmingham-area, while the couple explore co-packing options. Overall, this reemphasized the need for more kitchen space, which led them to Chef’s Workshop – a kitchen co-op in Hoover, Alabama that services a variety of food-based businesses including several food truck brands. Still, this was not exactly what they were looking for to keep their business’ momentum.
In early 2014, Carol and Rick decided to step back from Magnolia Bread and assess their business strategy. By July of that year, they opted to forego the use of kitchen space at Chef’s Workshop, primarily due to cost, and began to analyze their market strategy. It was at that point that Magnolia Mixes was born.
As a part of their strategic planning efforts, something that the Alabama SBDC Network has assisted with from the very beginning of its relationship, Carol turned to a simpler option: the development of recipes to accompany her original gluten free option in the form of a mix that could be sold in various settings. This transition allowed the Austin’s to cut overhead and create a much more portable product. Today, Magnolia Mixes produces a gluten free chocolate chip cookie, banana bread, cornbread, pancake & waffle and lemon pound cake mix sold at all major farmers’ markets in the Birmingham-area, as well as online and through many other avenues. By summer of 2016, Magnolia Mixes had entered into a lucrative contract with Western Supermarkets, with the products being sold throughout the Birmingham area.
Magnolia Bread and Magnolia Mixes – much like their founders Carol and Rick Austin – is an example of perseverance and careful strategic planning. They are very grateful for the ongoing relationship they have with the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network and look forward to continued success for many years to come.