Pursuing a passion takes guts, and that's exactly what Dayton native Brian Back and his wife Lauren Back have. They packed up everything, moved to Cleveland, scraped their money together, and started a food business called Backattack Snacks, which features a variety of flavored almonds and artisan beef jerky products.
"We depleted our checking account, our savings account, and our kids' accounts for the packaging and the labels," Brian Back said. "When people say they are all in, $5,000 in, I think 'Aww that’s cute did you clear your kid's accounts?' Probably not. We are here to play."
It's their constant passion for cooking and health that kept their food business alive even when times got tough. Brian Back recalls living in Dayton working as a quality assurance engineer; wife Lauren Back was a teacher. A five-bedroom house, the newest cars, and acreage gave them a comfortable life.
That all changed when Brian and his Lauren, who lives with a rare heart condition, were leaving a restaurant. It was June 27, 2014. Due to dizziness, Lauren, who was in her early 30s, sat down while Brian grabbed water. When he came back, his wife was on the ground screaming from pain.
"She went from a 54 beat per minute heart rate to 244. She paced 55 times and shocked 25 times," said Back. "Lauren was in the ICU for five days and on the sixth day, we moved to Cleveland. Not because of the Clinic or any other hospital. The reason was because if it came back and killed her, I don’t want her to be around my family. She should be around hers."
Three years later Brian and Lauren are packaging their Backattack Snacks at the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen. It hasn't been easy, but Brian is in his element.
At this time last year, the two were selling their snacks in one gym, and now they are in 60 stores across five states--including Heinen's and Mustard Seed stores.
Cooking up dreams
The growing appearance of farmer's markets, local grocery stores, and new restaurants are all indicators that Cleveland's national mark on food is here to stay. Founded in July 2012, the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen (CCLK) helps connect small food initiatives to an incubator kitchen and space that allows them to produce their product without the upfront cost of buying or renting a storefront.
"After 18 months, they move out to their own facility, or do co-packing which means they send the recipe to a company, or they discover owning a food business isn't for them," said Eric Diamond, COO, and partner of CCLK.
Before the food boom, Cleveland had a food presence, but it wasn't as distinguished as it is now. The demand for an incubator space wasn't anticipated.
Diamond recalls when he opened up space with his business partner Gordon Priemer. They had 30 inquiries from entrepreneurs asking how to use the space. It was something they didn't expect.
"There are some companies who are expanding at a rapid rate and need a larger space than what we provide. We are in the process of buying a 30,000 square-foot space for a commercial kitchen that we will call the Cleveland Hub," Diamond said.
- To date,120 entrepreneurs have come through the kitchen
- 30 businesses now work in their own facilities
- 310 jobs have been created
"The interesting thing about Cleveland, it's proven out of this kitchen, is that people are willing to pay more for a product that was made locally. They really like knowing who made the product," Diamond said.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Tricia Reddy wanted to bring her experience and views from her short time living California to Cleveland.
"Having the Pacific Coast Highway and Huntington Beach in my back yard was a dream come true," said Reddy.
Her coastline bowls mimic the beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway. They are made with granola, a variety of locally sourced fruit from the West Side Market and USDA organic Pitaya fruit, similar to a dragon fruit from Central American farms.
Reddy uses mobile approach and a partnership with UberEats to get the Coastline bowls to her customers.
"People have coined Coastline with my personality because I want to be everywhere in the community. I never thought my business would take over the way it did in Cleveland," said Reddy.
Cookie dreams come true
"I wanted cookies all the time," said Jim Travarca
Unable to make the cookies the way his beloved Aunt Britta Noonan did, he asked her how to make the cookies.
After getting the recipe down, he started to take them into work and that's how Little Shop of Cookies was born.
All of the cookies are peanut butter-based, which distinguishes them from other cookies in the market.
It's truly a family business with his wife Shella Travarca and Uncle Raymond Noonan on the cookie team.
"It's a lot of hard work to open up a business and cook all night after you have worked a full day, but when you're selling cookies and the majority of people have reactions, it makes it all worth it," said Travarca.
The alumni who have come out of CCLK such as Erie Bone Broth, Bearded Buch, Cleveland Kraut and Randy's Pickles have had tremendous success in the stores and have gone on to open up their own food production facilities.
The CCLK plans to accept 10 more business ventures into space in the coming months. CCLK encourages those who want to pursue an idea in a kitchen space, come to monthly open calls to pitch their product.
Kaylyn Hlavaty covers news that's all about the pride we share in Cleveland. Have a story tip or idea? Drop her a line at email@example.com or connect on Twitter: @kaylynhlavaty.