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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Entrepreneur Balances Making Biscuits Her Business, Gives Back Through Incubator

Lesley Riley, a Germantown, Maryland resident is founder and CEO of Mama’s Biscuits. The serial entrepreneur  inherited her grandmother Ida Lillian Stoner’s beautiful, handwritten cookbook. Stoner passed away in 2005.

“I always watched her cook, and then I would go out in the country because my dad’s family lived there. I’d pick wild blackberries. My other grandmother (Francis Riley) would make blackberry cobbler and homemade slippery pot pie for me,” Riley recalled reflecting on childhood years spent in Amish country in Pennsylvania.

Riley inherited cooking genes from two talented grandmothers who influenced her future trajectory of mixing food with business. She worked for the federal government and once owned an upscale restaurant in North Carolina. Riley’s journey took another turn when she noticed the lack of healthier biscuits that were available in the marketplace. She also aspired to infuse them with various flavors and began experimenting in her kitchen. Riley’s supportive coworkers were her taste testers in 2014.

“I said, ‘You guys are going to eat biscuits until the end of the year because I’m going to come up with 50 different flavors,’” Riley said. “Since then, we have created over 50 different flavors of sweet savory, gluten free and vegan biscuits. We are the first certified vegan biscuit on the market. As a matter of fact, we are the only vegan biscuit on the retail market and we have done cobblers. We’ve sold those on QVC. Now we just started our new themed breakfast sandwich line which has been picked up nationally. That will launch in September.”

Riley added that her company’s vegan sandwich is a partnership with JUST Egg and Beyond Meat. Despite her success, the full-time entrepreneur still works a full-time job.

“We rebranded in 2019. So, within two years I took the company to a multi-million-dollar company and with that I continue to bootstrap the business. It’s been a labor of love. We always face issues with capital. I’ve never done the raising of capital. I’m looking into that now, but I’ve always bootstrapped my projects and it worked,” Riley said. “I didn’t sell off a piece of my business. That’s what I’m most proud of. I know a lot of people must in order to grow, but by the grace of God, I’ve been able to maintain it.”

Riley makes time to give back to other entrepreneurs through a program that is offered on a rolling basis. There is no cost to approved participants who must have a food or beverage product. Meals, juices and desserts are several examples.

“I partnered with Hagerstown Community College, and it’s called Mama Biscuits Culinary Incubator. We mentor and inspire the next generation of food and beverage startup companies. We offer hourly space, on-site mentoring and business development. We have a financial investment part and we support other entrepreneurs in the community in Hagerstown, Maryland and the surrounding area,” Riley said. “I strictly volunteer. I don’t get paid to do this, but we currently have 15 food and beverage companies in the incubator right now. Each entrepreneur is matched with four different industry experts.”

Riley explained that some participants want to get their products on local or national store shelves. A virtual program also began in March.

“So, some of the entrepreneurs that are in this program are all across the country,” Riley said, noting that several cohorts have evolved to date.

Janese McCutchen from Florida is the owner of Rell-Brook House of Naturals.

“We produce elderberry products. It is for immunity support,” McCutchen said. “When I was diagnosed with Lupus, I started making elderberry. Once COVID-19 hit, people got wind of me making this elderberry and my business took off.”

 McCutchen searched high and low for a mentor. She stated that Riley answered questions when she reached out to her for advice.

“I just thought that was my blessing. God answered my prayers,” McCutchen said.

Riley informed McCutchen about the virtual incubator cohort. She became a participant.

“I’ve gained more knowledge about how to properly prepare my product to get on the retail shelf,” McCutchen said.

The entrepreneur explained that her product is currently sold in a few small chain stores in the South Florida area, but she is preparing to pursue selling her product in larger ones.

“We have discussed packaging, we have discussed pricing, and I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know in the past,” McCutchen said.

Visit https://mamabiscuit.com/mamas-biscuit-culinary-incubator-at-hagerstown-community-college/ to learn more under the Mama’s Biscuit Culinary Incubator at Hagerstown Community College and visit www.mamabiscuit.com to obtain more information about Mama’s Biscuits.

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