Outdoor dining in Annisquam

Finding The Market restaurant on Cape Ann is not simple.

To get there, diners must traverse the mazelike roads of Annisquam village. And it’s easy to drive by the place once or twice—the only indication that the modest, shingled shack holds an eatery is a faded sign left over from a previous tenant, the Lobster Cove Market and Restaurant.

MarketSignStill, on just about every summer night, cars line the road in front of the eatery and customers mingle on the deck as they wait for their tables. Now heading into its sixth season, The Market has developed a loyal following of foodies drawn to the restaurant’s ever-changing menu and fresh local ingredients.

“Find the best local food you can and do as little to it as possible,” says Nico Monday, who, along with wife Amelia, owns and operates the restaurant. “That’s our philosophy.”

And the approach has been working. The Market is almost always crowded during the six months it is open. It has been featured in Food and Wine magazine, and celebrities have been known to stop in when they are in town.

Though The Market opened in 2010, Nico and Amelia’s story starts years earlier in a different restaurant in California. Nico grew up in Berkeley, just up the street from Chez Panisse, the famed restaurant owned by chef Alice Waters, who is widely considered to be one of the trailblazers of the local food movement. (Waters is also Monday’s godmother.) By the time he was 13, Nico was bussing tables at the restaurant. After high school, he traveled through France and Italy, working in as many kitchens as he could—“That was my cooking school,” he says—before returning to cook at Chez Panisse.

Amelia is a Gloucester native. While attending college in coastal Maine, she turned to cooking as a way to occupy herself during the long, snowy winters. When she graduated, she headed to culinary school in the Bay Area. She secured an internship at Chez Panisse. “Basically, I forced myself upon them,” she says. And that position eventually evolved into a job.

It was at the restaurant that Nico and Amelia met and fell for each other. They worked together for about five years, absorbing Waters’s simple, ingredient-driven approach to cooking. “That really shaped how we think about food and look at food,” Nico says.

Eventually, though, they decided it was time for something new. The couple, not yet married at the time, set their sights on Europe, lining up jobs in Spain. But at the last minute, their visas fell through and they found themselves adrift without a plan. They considered finding summer jobs on Cape Cod, but soon started thinking about a bigger endeavor, a restaurant of their own, perhaps.

Then they heard about an old empty waterfront restaurant—in the past it had been a basic breakfast joint—in Amelia’s hometown. They leased the place sight unseen, and within two weeks they had opened The Market, Nico remembers. “We said, ‘I’ll bet if we just started cooking food, people will show up.’”

That first summer, they operated with just a handful of staff, and Amelia and Nico cooked every dish that left the kitchen. They wanted to work with locally grown ingredients but didn’t yet have any relationships with area growers, so Nico’s brother set out in an old Subaru, knocking on farmers’ doors and ask- ing if they had any food they could sell him.

“When the little car was full of produce, he’d come back to us and we’d say, ‘OK, that’s what’s for dinner,’” Nico says. “We were just this little ragtag band of restaurateurs figuring things out.”

Today, the operation has a more regular system in place, but the spirit is still the same. Nico and Amelia are in regular touch with local farmers, finding out what produce is going to be ready and flavorful each week. They buy their fish from local sellers every day. Each morning, often over coffee, they write a new menu featuring the ingredients they have available that day.

In spring, dishes might include English pea and goat cheese ravioli or fish stew with local scallops, squid, and haddock. Tomato-zucchini fritters might show up mid-summer, and pork Milanese with bacon-sautéed apples might make an early autumn appearance. Many menu offerings list the farms from which ingredients were sourced.

Amelia takes particular pride in crafting a course she says many restaurants too often overlook: the salad. Her versions often include unexpected components like spiced pistachios, tuna confit, and preserved lemon. “We think about salads as much as we do the entrées,” she says.

The restaurant space itself, she says, matches the vibe of the food: unpretentious and a little rustic, but demonstrating care in execution. The seating is split between a cozy, window-ringed dining room and a wooden deck jutting out over Lobster Cove, a narrow arm of the Annisquam River. The décor includes an abundance of wood, chalkboards, and checkered tablecloths.

The Mondays make improvements to the space every year. They recently added a new bar; this year’s plans include handmade butcher-block-style tabletops, some fresh paint, and new seating on the deck.

As Nico and Amelia get ready to reopen The Market after a punishing winter, they have nothing but enthusiasm for the season ahead. Nico intends to get back into the kitchen after spending the last two summers concentrating on the launch and growth of the couple’s second restaurant, pizza-focused Short & Main in downtown Gloucester. Amelia is excited to exercise her culinary creativity.

And Alice Waters is excited about her protegées’ success. “They create absolutely beautiful food,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing, hav- ing young, talented chefs from Chez Panisse starting restaurants that support the farmers and ranchers who take care of the land.”

“It’s like a dream restaurant to run in so many ways,” Amelia says. “It has a quintessential New England summer feel.”

For satisfied diners and happy restaurateurs alike, it seems The Market is quite the find.

This story originally appeared in the July 2015 issues of Northshore Magazine, and on the magazine’s website here

To salivate over some of The Market’s recent menus, visit the restaurant’s Tumblr

Boston to launch the nation’s first ‘all-local’ public market

BPMoutThe new public market opening this summer in Boston will never sell a banana or an avocado. In the winter and spring, when there are fewer vegetables in the fields, there will be fewer vegetables in the market’s stalls. And if local fishermen can’t catch it, it won’t be on offer.

The Boston Public Market will be home to about 40 vendors, who will sell fruits and vegetables, fish and meat, and honey—all grown, caught or produced in New England.

Most major cities either have large public markets these days or have one in works — think Detroit’s Eastern Market, San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, or Portland, Oregon’s James Beard Public Market, scheduled to open in 2018. While these markets are all champions of local food and farmers, however, none have taken their sourcing rules quite as far.

Boston’s market will be the first permanent, year-round market in the country to require its products—not just its proprietors—to be all-local, a model that is both exciting and risky, said Elizabeth Morningstar, chief executive of the Boston Public Market Association, the nonprofit that will operate the new enterprise.

“Do I know if it’s going to succeed? I don’t,” Morningstar said. “Do I think it’s the right thing to do? One hundred percent.”

The goals behind the ambitious rules are the same as those driving the burgeoning local food movement: boost economic development, help people eat healthier, reduce carbon emissions from long-haul transportation, and encourage consumers to reconnect with the land where their food is grown.

The state of Massachusetts is paying for half of the estimated $13 million it will cost to get the market up and running. The environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund has given the project a $3 million line of credit; private and foundation donations make up the rest of the budget.

BPMinThe building is still a work in progress. Men and women in hard hats walk the raw concrete floors where shoppers will meander come summer. Visible ducts and wires run along the ceiling and a stack of pipes obscures a wall that will be covered in a cascade of flowers. The banks of floor-to-ceiling windows that line the front of the building are covered in colorful posters that promote the coming market and prevent passers-by from peering in at the unfinished space.

As the market nears completion, however, questions remain about its pioneering local-only mandate. Will the farms of highly seasonal New England have anything to sell in winter? Will consumers find the selection too limited?

Morningstar has conquered any doubts she once had about supply. More than 300 potential vendors–the vast majority from Massachusetts–have expressed interest in setting up shop in the market, she said. Applicants must submit a rigorous business plan guaranteeing their ability to provide enough product all year. “Even the small businesses have been very diligent about their supply model,” Morningstar said.

The growers selling fruits and vegetables have all found ways to extend their offerings through the colder, less fertile months. For instance, Corner Stalk Farm grows greens in converted shipping containers all year. Red Apple Farm will supplement its fruit with cider and treats like doughnuts. Other farms plan to offer items that will store well throughout the winter like root vegetables and winter squash. The first round of vendors also includes businesses selling meat, cheese, milk, ice cream, honey, wine, smoked fish, and greenhouse-grown flowers.

Not every ingredient will come from New England–market rules allow prepared foods to use components from outside the region, though the final product must be produced locally. The market will also sell chocolate and seasoned nuts grown out of New England, but processed in neighboring Somerville. And it will have a coffee vendor and some smoothies for sale there that will contain coconut.

The question of demand is not as clearly resolved, but there is every reason for optimism.

“Local” continues to be one of the most commercially appealing words in the food business, said Rachel Greenberger, director of food entrepreneurship program Food Sol at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Though the market will not have the one-stop convenience of a traditional supermarket, Morningstar points to data that indicate most shoppers already make multiple stops to buy all of the groceries they want.

Still, consumer education will be essential if the market is to succeed, said Gregory Watson, who was commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources when the plans for the market were taking shape.

“You want to manage those customer expectations right up front, so [they] don’t come in expecting tropical fruit,” he said.

Several vendors will include educational pieces in their own stalls, Morningstar said. An active beehive will buzz behind plexiglass at the booth of the Boston Honey Company of Holliston and Taza Chocolate of Somerville will have a traditional chocolate grinding stone on display.

In the market’s kitchen, a versatile space in the corner of the facility, visitors will be able to sample produce or practice their stir-fry technique in hands-on cooking classes. Area conservation group the Trustees of Reservations will coordinate the programming.

“This is definitely a radical concept, so the education becomes all the more important,” said Mimi Hall, market programming director for the Trustees of Reservations.

Though a market is always a tourist draw, planners are shaping the Boston facility to serve residents first and foremost, Morningstar said. Most vendors will serve some prepared food options, but the only seating will be eight small tables in the center of the space. The goal is not to become a dining destination, but to stay focused on the needs of local shoppers looking for dinner ingredients, she said.

To make sure the market is an option for all residents regardless of income, all vendors are required to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, (AKA food stamps). Classes will also be priced to make them affordable to a wide range of participants, Hall said. One-third of the events will be free, she said, and another third will cost less than $20.

“We’re making sure people of all different backgrounds and all different means get connected to the land,” Hall said.

If the market succeeds, it could be an important catalyst for growth in the local food economy in New England, several people said. Having a guaranteed year-round outlet could encourage farmers to look at boosting greenhouse production, for instance, said Watson.

The market is also an important step in building needed local food infrastructure, Greenberger said. And for Morningstar, the market will help both grow and satisfy Boston’s corps of local food devotees.

“Shopping in a public market is a value statement,” she said. “People go because they like what it says about them and about the community.”

This story first ran on Civil Eats on May 21, 2015.

Learning the business of food

Veronica Janssens, co-owner of Batch Ice Cream in the South End, has been in the frozen confection business for about five years. But in between formulating flavors and churning out pints, it can be hard to find time to scrutinize financial statements or plot a course for growth.

So, Janssens said, she decided she needed a plan for “running a business in a grown-up sort of way.”

The solution she found was a food-focused business course offered by Interise, a Boston nonprofit that promotes small business and economic development. The 15-week class, part of Interise’s StreetWise MBA program, aims to support the growing number of food startups that have popped up in city neighborhoods and rural towns, spurring investment and creating jobs.

With the local food trend showing no sign of slowing, Interise teamed up with the Jamaica Plain food incubator CropCircle Kitchen and Boston Public Market, the year-round local food market that is expected to open near the Haymarket MBTA station this summer.

Liz Morningstar, chief executive of Boston Public Market, said the course is part of her organization’s mission to boost homegrown foodie businesses. But, she added, “It’s also smart business. We necessarily want a stronger pipeline of companies.”

The class, which is free, includes 15 owners from 10 companies that sell everything from herbal infusion drinks to decadent doughnuts. (The group also includes a flower grower who sells at farmers markets.) Some, like Union Square Donuts and Q’s Nuts, both based in Somerville, have already gained buzz for products such as maple bacon donuts and Mexican chocolate almonds.

Others are still planning their official launches.

All want to find ways for their businesses to grow.

On a recent Monday night, the group met at Interise’s offices to polish their elevator pitches to potential buyers, talk about targeting their ideal customers, and trade tips about promoting themselves on social media. For the first seven weeks, the curriculum focused on keeping, reading, and analyzing financial statements; the remaining eight weeks will cover marketing, sales, human resources, and strategic planning.

At the end of the course, the students will have created a three-year business plan. Already, the work they have done has changed the direction of one business.

Barbara Rietscha, owner of the flower-growing operation Stow Greenhouses in Stow, has decided that positioning her company as a farm and florist, moving away from its identity as a wholesaler, is the best plan for expanding her business. She had been considering the change for some time; assessing her financials for class convinced her to accelerate her plans.

As class proceeded this week, product samples — pouches of flavored almonds, plastic tubes of wrapped caramels, boxes of frozen ravioli — littered the tables in the classroom. Business lingo like “end user” (aka customer) and “margin” (the difference between cost and price for each item sold) shared conversational space with talk of flavor combinations and cheesemaking techniques.

These conversations are one of the key benefits of the class, said Christina Barbieri, co-owner of the Amesbury cheesemaker Wolf Meadow Farms. Though she has a business degree, Barbieri has discovered that the food industry offers very specific and unexpected challenges, such as working out the logistics of obtaining ingredients from local sources.

“It’s so different from anything you learn in a textbook,” she said. “We’ve been learning so much from other people.”

Interise is watching the dynamic among the food entrepreneurs closely, said Johnny Charles, the organization’s Boston program manager. StreetWise MBA is a national program; more than 2,000 entrepreneurs in 36 communities have participated. In the past, classes have generally included a mix of businesses specifically chosen so that the students don’t find themselves trading tips with their competition, Charles said.

The food class, therefore, is something of an experiment by focusing on a single industry, he said. It will help Interise find new approaches to serving a range of small companies.

“Are there different ways we can think of supporting different businesses in different industries?” he asked. “There’s still some learning to be done.”

The goal for many of the students is to secure a slot at Boston Public Market when it opens in a few months. The final line-up of vendors — there will be about 42 to start — has not been announced, but is likely to include some of the class participants, Morningstar said.

Regardless, she said, the public market is eager to support even those businesses that don’t end up as vendors, because they will help to expand the food scene in Boston. That ultimately benefits the public market, the companies, and their customers, she said.

For entrepreneurs like Janssens, the importance of the class is more straightforward: It encourages her to focus on the business aspects of her ice cream company.

“The class makes you step back,” Janssens said. “You have to answer the hard questions you sometimes try to ignore.”

This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on March 12, 2015. Click here to read the full story and see photos of the students. 

Eclectic Martha’s Vineyard radio station hopes to regain an over-the-air signal

Mvyradio operates out of a small house in Vineyard Haven, but the programming has a global reach. Listeners stream the nonprofit online station — still known locally as WMVY — in Morocco and Madrid, in Costa Rica and China, sometimes even in Antarctica.

This spring, however, more than a year after former owner Aritaur Communications sold the station’s 3,000-watt signal — 92.7 FM — to WBUR in Boston, mvyradio is returning to the place where it all started, the airwaves of Martha’s Vineyard.

 The tiny station anticipates receiving Federal Communications Commission approval in April to buy the noncommercial signal at 88.7 FM for $450,000, and it could return to the air as early as May. Its online programming will continue as well.

“It’s exciting for us and it’s exciting for the people who have missed us,” program director P.J. Finn said.

The plan is to keep the station’s nonprofit business model and maintain the same eclectic format that made the 33-year-old station a staple on the island and elsewhere — a mix of music ranging from classic rock such as the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead to current indie bands like The Civil Wars and She & Him, mixed with lesser-known cuts, local artists, and live performance recordings.

The radio station’s personality has become part of the island’s identity, said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

“To have them back on the airwaves again is a really nice identity boost, not just for the station and the music they play, but also for the island,” Gardella said.

Though listening to WMVY on the radio had been an island tradition for decades, Aritaur was forced to sell the signal in 2012 after losing money for several years, much to the disappointment of many locals and regular visitors, said Aritaur chief executive Joe Gallagher. While the signal went to public radio powerhouse WBUR, the station’s equipment, its intellectual property, its 22 employees, and its wide-reaching goodwill all remained. So the station forged ahead online.

“MVY is a very unique, special radio station, and we’re lucky enough to be able to let it . . . run its full course and become what I think it really should be,” said Gallagher, who remains involved as a board member.

Unlike its previous signal, which reached most of Cape Cod and parts of Southeastern Massachusetts, the station’s new and weaker 580-watt signal will only be able to cover Martha’s Vineyard and parts of Cape Cod closest to the island.

WMVY first went on the air 1981, and Aritaur bought it in 1998. The owners pushed a digital-intensive strategy and quickly invested in the station’s online presence, Gallagher said. The mvyradio name was used to encompass both broadcast and online operations.

“It didn’t take that long for the online audience to grow as large as and, in fact, larger than our FM,” he said.

In 2007, the cost of paying to broadcast over the airwaves and online had become unsustainable, and the station turned to a hybrid business model. Traditional advertising sales continued to fund some programming, while other programming was supported through a formula familiar to public radio listeners — solicitations for donations and corporate underwriting.

Donations were strong and continued growing, even through the recession, Gallagher said. But it wasn’t enough money and the station still failed to turn a profit, making it necessary to sell the signal.

“Aritaur is a small company and we had been funding large losses,” said Gallagher, who did not offer specifics.

Even though WBUR would be taking over its FM signal, mvyradio decided to continue online. The station undertook a fund-raising campaign to collect $600,000 before the deal closed to sustain itself as a nonprofit, online broadcaster for at least a year as it charted its future course. The campaign succeeded, signaling a far greater commitment from listeners than Gallagher had realized existed, he said.

“During the course of the year, we decided that we were going to return the station to the island,” he said.

For the past 13 months, mvyradio has remained at mvyradio.com, and can be heard via smartphone and tablet apps. Shows also air on 96.5 FM in Newport, R.I.

Currently, mvyradio is part of nonprofit public media consulting organization Public Radio Capital and governed by an independent board. The ultimate plan is for the station to establish its own nonprofit organization.

WMVY is part of a growing trend, said Marc Hand, chief executive of Public Radio Capital.

Though public radio has traditionally been the domain of news, talk, and classical music programs, stations focused on more contemporary music increasingly have been cropping up, he said. These stations tend to offer the local music, live performances, and lesser-known artists that rarely appear on mainstream radio anymore, according to Hand.

“It’s filling a void that you find in the commercial landscape now,” he said.

Online streaming gives such stations access to a much larger pool of listeners, making it easier to attract the contributions needed to continue operations, he added.

But as important as mvyradio’s digital presence is, its place on Martha’s Vineyard’s airwaves is essential to its identity and its place in the community, Finn said.

“I run into people all the time who aren’t able to listen to us on the Internet,” he said. “To be able to say, ‘Yes, you will be able to listen, that’s coming back,’ that’s really exciting.”

This story first appeared in The Boston Globe on March 28, 2014.

Latest in farm fresh products: We deliver

LEXINGTON — When Amanda Bosh goes grocery shopping, it’s all about super fresh apples, artisan cheese, free-range chicken, and organic Brussels sprouts.

But Bosh doesn’t get these products at an upscale supermarket. Instead, she heads to a local private school, where she will pick up the best quality meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables.

Bosh’s bounty, packed tight into a reusable grocery bag, comes courtesy of Farmers to You, a company that delivers to Boston area consumers direct from Vermont farms. In addition to drop-off sites such as the Waldorf School of Lexington, the company offers home delivery in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and a few suburban communities.

Farmers to You is one of several area companies expanding the local food movement beyond farmers markets and trendy restaurants, tapping into the growing demand by consumers to know and understand the source of their food. Some businesses, like Farmers to You, deliver from farm to fridge. Others add another stop and more convenience, by preparing local farm products as ready-to-eat meals. Still others connect New England farms to institutional food services, such as school cafeterias.

Farmers to You, based in Calais, Vt., was founded in 2009 with the dual mission of supporting farms and food producers in Vermont and improving the access of Boston area consumers to fresh farm products. Something GUD, a Somerville startup, works on a similar model, sourcing foods from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island and delivering them to pickup sites and homes from Quincy to Newburyport.

Prices are comparable to what a shopper would pay at Whole Foods for similar items, the company founders said. For example, a gallon of organic skim milk is about $6 both through Something GUD and at Whole Foods.

The difference: Most of the money spent with these local food businesses goes to the farmers and artisans producing the food.

Greg Georgaklis, the founder of Farmers to You, estimates the farms with which the company partners receive about 65 cents for each dollar customers pay. On average, farmers nationally get just 15.5 cents per dollar spent by consumers in supermarkets, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“My vision of the future would be that 50 percent of food that’s bought is bought somehow directly through farmers,” Georgaklis said.

Farmers to You delivers to about 480 families that spend an average of $65 each week. The company estimates it will turn a profit when it signs up 600 families, which it expects to do by spring.

At Cuisine en Locale in Somerville, owner JJ Gonson turns local foods into frozen meals that are delivered weekly to the company’s 35 customers.

Each delivery includes about 10 pounds of prepared food, about enough to provide four meals for two adults. At $145 per week, the service costs about the same as getting takeout a few times a week, Gonson said.

Farmers to You was founded in 2009 with the dual mission of supporting farms and food producers in Vermont and improving the access of Boston area consumers to fresh farm products. Among the products it delivers to Boston area customers, organic ice cream, maple syrup, eggs, and apple butter.

Gonson uses only fresh foods produced within a 100-mile radius of Boston, never using ingredients, such as lemons, that can’t be grown here. She estimates her sales last year generated about $150,000 in revenues for area farmers, and she expects that to double in the coming year.

“We don’t even own a can opener, nor a lemon reamer,” she said.

The business evolved from Gonson’s work as a personal chef. The company operated out of shared commercial kitchens around the Boston area for the first seven years, but moved into its own space about a month ago after buying Anthony’s function hall in Somerville.

Rather than focusing on individual consumers, FoodEx in Roxbury serves institutional buyers – school districts, universities, hospitals.

JD Kemp, the chief executive and cofounder, wants to reach what he describes as “the other 90 percent of the market” – people who don’t go out of their way to pursue local food.

FoodEx secures commitments from institutions to buy produce, eggs, and dairy from farmers throughout the Northeast. The company’s customers include about 40 universities, school districts, and individual high schools.

FoodEx runs its own trucks and warehouse. This distribution system cuts out several steps — and costs — in the supply chain, which means farmers get above average prices while buyers pay the same as or less than they pay to conventional suppliers, Kemp said.

“We’re unique in this area – and perhaps in the country,” Kemp said, “because we are focused on wholesale and trying to find solutions that go beyond the individual consumer.”

This story originally ran in The Boston Globe on December 6, 2014. Click here to read the story and see photos and graphics.

Toy maker gets new owners, not a new philosophy

Jack Schylling started out, in 1975, as a Faneuil Hall street vendor, selling wind-up flying birds. He was taken with the whimsy and charm of the simple toys, the wonder they evoked.

Over the next four decades, Schylling expanded his sidewalk operation into the multimillion dollar enterprise Schylling Inc., but his philosophy on toys and play hasn’t changed.

Schylling robots“We don’t make toys that are based on computer chips,” Schylling said, sitting in a conference room of his Rowley company that is lined with hundreds of his company’s painted metal robots, toy racing cars, and rubber duckies. “We like the more traditional toys where your imagination fills in the blanks.”

Now, Schylling and his company are entering a new phase. Schylling Inc. announced last week that the investment firms Crofton Capital LLC of Newton and Gladstone Investment Corp. of McLean, Va., have acquired the company from Schylling and his brothers David and Tom.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

As the new owners take over, Schylling, 63, will be stepping back, but not stepping away entirely — at least not yet. He has resigned as president and will take on a less formal role as an adviser and creative consultant. He expects to be in the office daily for the next year or so.

“I see this as the next step, seeing the company being nurtured by a new team,” Schylling said. “This is passing the torch for me.”

Schylling and his brothers will retain a significant stake in the company — “certainly enough to keep us motivated,” Schylling said. David Schylling will stay on in business development, and Tom Schylling will remain in his current position as chief financial officer.

The enterprise that has been Jack Schylling’s “entire life” for the better part of 40 years is well known in the toy industry for producing the kinds of classic playthings that use hand cranks rather than electric switches.

Every inch of the company’s office displays that philosophy.

Filing cabinets are covered with dozens of jack-in-the-boxes, a signature Schylling item. A giant sock monkey stands sentinel over the conference room. A floor-to-ceiling shelf outside of Schylling’s office is covered with dozens of vintage toys that serve as inspiration for the company’s products.

Schylling shows off every part of his company with palpable pride, from the smallest toys to the sprawling warehouse.

A Schylling jack-in-the-box appeared in the Will Ferrell movie “Elf,” he notes. Over the years, he boasts, the quality of his sales staff grew along with his company, and today they are “the best in the industry.”

Schylling desigSchyllingners dream up the toys sold under the company name, from basic tin cars to items sporting licensed characters such as Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine.

The company, with its 100,000-square-foot warehouse, also acts as a distributor for many well-known brands such as Lego, Erector sets, and Brio trains.

Schylling said his company needed bigger, more sophisticated management than what he has been able to provide. The company has never done much marketing and needs leaders with different talents to push it to the next level of success, he said.

“We brought it as far as we could,” Schylling said.

He agreed to sell only after being convinced Crofton and Gladstone would preserve the spirit of Schylling. Crofton managing director Philip Ivey convinced him that the company would be safe in his hands.

“The enduring philosophy is going to remain the same,” Ivey added.

The buyers were drawn to Schylling’s timeless toys, extensive customer base, and continuous growth, Ivey said.

In 2005, the company had annual sales of more than $20 million, according to a Globe story from that year. Though Ivey would not share current numbers, he said that sales have increased significantly each year since that time, even during the recent recession.

“That was a pretty impressive testament to the strength of the business,” Ivey said.

Schylling will be handing the title of president to Paul Weingard, an industry veteran and current head of product development for the company. Weingard’s first priority will be spreading the Schylling name, he said. Right now, the brand is well known within the toy industry, but enjoys less name recognition among consumers.

“We definitely intend to put more emphasis on connecting with families, with children, to reinforce the Schylling brand,” he said.

Schylling first came to the toy business shortly after graduating from Harvard University. He was working for the Harvard College Fund and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

Then, one day he saw a small plastic bird fly by his fourth-floor office window. Immediately fascinated, he ran outside to find the source of the toy and buy one for himself. In no time, Schylling tracked down the toy manufacturer in France, secured a street vendor’s license, and started his own sidewalk toy business.

“My parents had a hard time understanding how I could turn a Harvard degree into a Boston street vendor’s license,” he said.

Schylling soon added other toys to his offerings, then started selling his wares to small, high-end toy stores. In the early 1980s, he began working with manufacturers in Asia to create custom products according to his own designs.

Now, as he passes on the enterprise he built from the sidewalk up, Schylling looks forward to a life outside of the toy business, though he does not yet have any specific plans. Indeed, when asked what he will do next, he talks about the company, not himself.

“I was never looking beyond the next product,” Schylling said. “These guys bring in vision that goes beyond the next toy.”

This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on August 22, 2013.

Dropping loyalty cards puts Shaw’s in the minority

ShawsOver the past week, shoppers at Shaw’s supermarkets across New England were greeted at the door and asked to hand in their orange store cards. In return, they were given coupons and a promise.

“We want to offer every customer that walks through our door that same price, without having to worry about needing a card,” Shaw’s spokesman Steven Sylven said.

The supermarket chain, recently acquired by a group of investors led by Cerberus Capital Management LP, is revamping its strategy and reinvesting in its 169 stores. However, by ending its loyalty card program, Shaw’s is making itself an exception in an industry that thrives on parsing, analyzing, and sometimes even selling the data these initiatives supply.

“I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon,” said Elea Feit, executive director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.

Loyalty card programs began popping up more than 20 years ago and quickly became almost ubiquitous in supermarkets and drugstores. Today, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, and CVS are among the chains that use some version of these systems to track buying habits and encourage repeat visits by offering customers deals such as lower prices and discounted gas.

To run a successful program, a company needs to think more about the data than the discounts, industry insiders said. Customer rewards will motivate shoppers to present their cards, but the real marketing power is in the information. Stores can use this consumer data to tailor offerings to their shoppers, provide customized deals, and manage inventory more efficiently over time.

“If you’re not using the data, then why have the card?” asked Tony Gomes, vice president of marketing and corporate strategies for Springfield-based Big Y, which launched its store card in 1989.

Today, the system is crucial to the chain’s marketing strategy, Gomes said. The information Big Y collects in its 61 stores helps it figure out what items their most loyal customers often buy and keep those products in stock, even if they are not particularly popular with the general population of shoppers. The company is also about to launch customized e-mail fliers, which will individually highlight deals on shoppers’ favorite items.

“Without the card, we wouldn’t be able to do any of that,” said Gomes, who credits the card program with much of his company’s success.

As technology and loyalty program research continue, loyalty program data collection is going to evolve, Feit said.

The proliferation of smartphones is allowing companies to create apps that let customers keep grocery lists, receive coupons, and, of course, share this information with the supermarkets where they shop. Stop & Shop’s Scan It! Mobile app lets shoppers scan groceries with their phones as they shop to speed up the checkout process.

Analysts are also looking for more ways to use these growing accumulations of data.

“For the companies that do have loyalty card data, the next big frontier is linking that to other data,” Feit said. “The holy grail is to link what ads people are seeing to what they are buying.”

Finding ways to cross-reference individuals’ grocery shopping patterns with their television viewing habits, for example, could give food companies powerful insight into which of their advertisements work best with which audiences, she said.

Card programs make particular sense for midrange stores whose customers will be drawn to offer up their cards — and thus their information — in return for lower prices, said Feit. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Market Basket, which are known for having low prices, are more concerned with volume than personalization, and therefore may not be able to get as much out of a loyalty card, experts say.

By terminating its loyalty card and lowering prices across the chain, Shaw’s is positioning itself in this group. It is also attempting, experts say, to repair the damage done to its reputation when it was owned by Supervalu Inc., when prices were high and stores were shabby.

“Shaw’s lost a lot of people,” said Mike Berger, senior editor of the Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a trade publication published in Duxbury. “The most important priority for Shaw’s is to get people back in the stores.”

Even without card-based data about shoppers, Shaw’s will be able to use store-level data about product sales to tailor marketing decisions to different locations, said Sylven.

“Tracking individual purchases is one way to do it, but it’s not the only way,” he said.

The news that Shaw’s has eliminated its store card “delighted” Katherine Albrecht of Nashua, N.H., a consumer advocate who has long protested the spread of store cards as an unwarranted intrusion into consumer privacy. She predicts that data about our food shopping might one day be used by the government or insurers to draw conclusions about our health.

With all the recent concern about the government accessing phone records and e-mail data from private companies, Albrecht said, “we might also want to be concerned about these global corporations that have all this information about our food purchases.”

This story originally ran in The Boston Globe on July 6, 2013.

Candlemaker aims to help impoverished women

ProsperityMoo Kho Paw fled the violence and oppression of Myanmar for a refugee camp in Thailand nearly a decade ago. Five years later, she, her husband, and their baby daughter resettled again, this time landing in Springfield.

As she adapted to her new home, Paw started looking for a job to help support her family, which was about to get even larger with the addition of twins. That’s when she learned about Prosperity Candle, the Easthampton company where she has now worked for three years.

“I love the job,” Paw said. “It helps me to pay the rent, to buy the baby diapers.”

That’s precisely what Ted Barber, 46, hoped for when he and partner Amber Chand founded Prosperity Candle in 2010. The company sells a line of handmade candles poured into colorful, recyclable containers. But sales are only part of its mission — the company say its real goal is to help women in and from developing countries by teaching them new skills and creating jobs.

“We are very much focused on families escaping poverty through women’s entrepreneurship,” Barber said.

Their efforts thus far have included training women in Iraq to make candles and run small businesses. A similar candlemaking program in Haiti is on the horizon.

In Easthampton, the company employs refugees such as Paw to make and package candles and fulfill orders. Currently, up to four refugees are working there at any given time, though Barber expects to hire more as the business expands.

Refugees “don’t always get the best opportunities,” he said, “so we like to counter that here.”

The company has been “an absolute blessing” for the refugee community in Western Massachusetts, particularly for those women who have never before worked outside the home, according to Jozefina Lantz, director of services for new Americans at Lutheran Social Services. The agency, which has an office in Springfield, helped connect refugees with jobs at Prosperity Candle.

The idea for an enterprise like Prosperity Candle first occurred to Barber when he was working in Africa, helping entrepreneurs build small businesses. Barber said that during a trip to Rwanda he had a sobering realization: There was little opportunity for the businesses he was helping to grow.

“Due to a lack of opportunity, if I came back in a year, they probably wouldn’t be much different,” he said. “That’s when I realized I wanted to do something different.”

The idea of using business enterprises to benefit poverty-stricken people in the developing world has become a mainstream concept, with the popularity of microlending sites such as Kiva and brands such as Toms shoes, an online retailer based in California that donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair it sells.

But Barber had something else in mind for Prosperity Candle. Rather than giving away money or supplies, the company would provide women with the resources, skills, and support they need to start a sustainable businesses.

After lengthy deliberation, the two founders decided to focus on candles. They wanted a product that could be made in a small space, so women in war-torn areas could work from their homes. At the same time, they needed an item that could be made in large quantities, so women could scale up their businesses if they chose. In addition, whatever they sold had to be consumable, so buyers would keep coming back.

Today, the company’s product line includes scented and unscented candles that come in metal tins, glass votives, and hand-painted stoneware. Prices range from $10 to $56.

“For us, the actual product is 100 percent chock full of social impact,” said Siiri Morley, 34, a partner in the company. “The production itself is what is creating the change.”

Prosperity Candle formed as a low-profit limited liability company, a structure that requires the business to put its social mission ahead of profits. It promotes, packages, and sells the candles, creating a market for the candlemakers’ wares.

“For this to be a sustainable opportunity for the women, the model . . . needed to be market-based, not subsidized by grants and donations,” Morley said.

The company launched in 2010 with a pilot program in Iraq. It initially provided start-up equipment to 44 women and trained them in candlemaking and the basics of running a small business. Once the training was complete, the women were free to run their businesses as they liked — by continuing to work with Prosperity Candle or striking out on their own. Today, the number of women trained in Iraq exceeds 100 and about two-thirds of them choose to export at least some of their candles through Prosperity Candle.

About 30 percent of the company’s revenue comes from online sales, Barber said. The remaining 70 percent is generated through sales of candles to corporate partners who give them out as favors at events or to clients and employees. In 2012, the second full year of operation, sales totaled $200,000.

Aziza Ansari, of Palo Alto, Calif., is typical of Prosperity Candle’s regular online customers — she is attracted to the products and the cause. Last week, she ordered a candle as a Mother’s Day present, in part because she knows her mother will appreciate what the company is doing.

This year, the company started Prosperity Catalyst, a nonprofit arm that is taking over the training and mentoring of new candlemakers. This group, headed by Morley, is starting up a candlemaking operation in Haiti modeled after the Iraq pilot program. The original for-profit business will continue to handle marketing and distribution of candles.

As the company continues to expand, Morley said, she is becoming increasingly optimistic about the chances of having an impact on impoverished communities worldwide.

“When women are empowered in any way, the ripple effect is tremendous,” she said.

This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on May 11, 2013. Click here to read the story and see pictures of the company in action.

Gloucester fishermen’s leader cleared, but shocked by allegations

Vito Giacalone, president of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund , has been cleared of any wrongdoing by former attorney general L. Scott Harshbarger after a three-month investigation.

But that does not mean Giacalone is happy with what he found in Harshbarger’s report. In fact, he said, he was astonished to read — for the first time — details of the allegations against him, such as charges of misappropriation of funds and exerting improper influence on fishermen.

“There’s stuff in this report that shocked me,” Giacalone said.

The fund hired Harshbarger in October after state Senator Bruce Tarr and state Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, both of Gloucester, sent the group a letter suggesting it seek legal advice regarding questions that had been circulating in the fishing community for months.

Some fishermen were particularly concerned that there might be a conflict of interest in Giacalone’s roles as fund president, commercial fisherman, policy director for the Northeast Seafood Coalition , and owner of the property that houses a local seafood auction run by his sons.

“It was all about getting to the bottom of these vague but very serious allegations,” Giacalone said.

The investigation, however, concluded that “there is simply no credible basis to support the allegations, and, to the contrary, they are without merit,” Harshbarger said.

The exoneration of the fund and Giacalone did not surprise Al Cottone, who has been a Gloucester commercial fisherman for 30 years. However, like Giacalone, he was stunned by the details of the allegations.

“I read the report and my head almost exploded,” he said. “It was like mud-slinging in a high school locker room.”

Russell Sherman, who has been fishing out of Gloucester for 43 years, agreed with the report’s analysis that the economic pressures squeezing fishermen have exacerbated friction within the industry.

“After a while, when you never win, you snap like a mad dog,” he said.

Others, however, are more skeptical of the report’s findings.

Paul Muniz, a local lawyer named in the report as one of the fund’s most vocal critics, said he does not believe the report got all of its facts straight. Muniz, who describes himself as an advocate for the fishermen, according to the report, expressed “concerns about the report’s accuracy in some important respects, and [Harshbarger] has agreed to conduct a further review,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Both the fund and the seafood coalition, the report states, have policies in place to ensure that potential conflicts of interest do not become actual cases of divided loyalties. Furthermore, the investigation uncovered no evidence that Giacalone ever used his leadership roles to benefit himself or his sons.

Harshbarger recommended several steps the fund could take to improve its governance and communications. The report advised doubling the size of its board of directors, making its internal processes more transparent, and retaining ongoing legal counsel.

The investigation found near-unanimous agreement that the fund plays a vital role in the local fishing industry. It was started in 2007, using $12 million intended to mitigate the loss of fishing grounds because of the new liquefied natural gas terminal that was built off the coast of Gloucester.

The fund uses the money to buy fishing permits, then leases them to local fishermen, increasing the amount of fish they are allowed to land.

“The fund is the guard against permits being sold outside of Gloucester to the highest bidder,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. “To have the report clear the board . . . is vital for the industry in Gloucester.”

The original accusations emanated mainly from a small group of critics, the report said, but were then publicized in what Harshbarger described as an “unfounded media blitz.”

Daniel Bubb of Long Island, N.Y, a former Gloucester fisherman, questioned the findings’ objectivity because the fund itself paid for the investigation.

“How can you even consider that a report?” he asked.

But Harshbarger defended the report’s impartiality.

“Any reasonable person would come to the same conclusions that we did,” he said.

The fund has not released the cost of the investigation, though Giacalone describes it as “very substantial.” Spending the money, which could otherwise have been used to acquire more permits for local fishermen, was regrettable but necessary, Sherman said.

Giacalone does not expect the results of the investigation to silence his critics.

Though tensions are still high in some corners of the community, Giacalone and many of the city’s other fishermen are ready to move forward and focus on the issues facing the industry, they said.

“With all the problems we’re facing, there’s no use in dwelling,” said Cottone.

This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on February 2, 2013. Click here to read it there. 

At bakeries, it’s all about the pies for Thanksgiving

MEDFORD — Buck Rollins never gets sick of pie. Not at the beginning of an overnight bakery shift, facing 12 or more hours of pressing dough or piling fruit into pans. Not six hours later, when he finds his groove and pie-making takes on a Zen-like rhythm. Not even at the end of the night, when up to 2,500 pies have passed through his hands.

“You gotta have the right amount of caffeine, you gotta have the right amount of sleep, you gotta have the right amount of food,” said Rollins, imparting his recipe for round-the-clock baking. “It’s exciting.”

Rollins leads the 38-person pastry team at the Whole Foods Bread and Circus Bakehouse here, playing a key role in churning out 80,000 pies destined for dinner tables throughout New England, New Jersey, and New York City. As Americans sit down for their annual ritual of family, turkey, and overeating, they can expect to spend on average $49.48 to make a Thanksgiving dinner for 10, including $5.53 to make two homemade pumpkin pies, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farms.

For Rollins and his team, Thanksgiving also means a much needed break after spending the last week and a half making pies nonstop. That amounts to about 8,000 pies a day — 10 times what the Whole Foods bakery typically produces other times of the year. By the time Thursday rolls around, the team will have turned 25,000 pounds of flour, 11,000 pounds of butter, 22,500 pounds of sugar, and nearly 20 tons of fruit into the most quintessential of Thanksgiving desserts.

Not only is Whole Foods focused on pies, but so is Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., the region’s biggest grocer with 220 New England stores. While it does not bake its own pies, the chain expects to sell some 250,000 pies this Thanksgiving, said spokeswoman Suzi Robinson. Maine-based Hannaford Bros. sells 168,000 pies in 181 stores during November, some made in-house and others from outside vendors, said spokesman Michael Norton.

The Medford bakery is one of five Whole Foods has around the country, but the Massachusetts facility makes, by far, more pies than any of the others, according to the Texas-based grocer.

“Sure, there are easier, more efficient ways to produce the quantity of pies we sell during the holidays, but the priority for Whole Foods Market is making sure our customers get a delicious pie,” Rick Bonin, vice president of the company’s North Atlantic region, said in a statement.

The pie-making marathon at the Medford facility begins more than a week before Thanksgiving. This year’s goal: turn out 27,000 apple pies, 20,000 pumpkin pies, 16,000 pecan pies, 10,000 blueberry pies, and 7,000 cherry pies for 52 stores.

Hanging on the wall in the bakehouse is a thermometer-shaped “Pie-O-Meter,” marking the pastry team’s progress toward these numbers. Late last week the team was more than 80 percent of the way to its target. They get there by going from one daily shift to three, turning the bakery into a round-the-clock operation.

“The average human could not do what our team members do,” said Rollins, 49, who has been with Whole Foods for 17 years. “It’s amazing.”

The crew working so hard to produce dessert for this distinctively American holiday is a thoroughly international group. Rollins banters with them in English; they respond in accents inflected by their native Burmese, Spanish, Cantonese, and Creole.

The concept of using crust to contain other ingredients has been around since ancient times, said food historian and author Barbara Haber of Winchester.

The now-traditional pie trio of apple, pumpkin, and pecan probably evolved along with Thanksgiving, as a way to incorporate some of the distinctly American ingredients that are abundant at this time of year, she said.

At Whole Foods, the pie process begins with the crust, a simple mixture of flour, butter, dry milk powder, salt, and water.

Each 350-pound batch of dough is divided into smaller balls, which are individually pressed into foil pans. Another group of bakers loads each shell with a filling made from fresh fruit: apples, blueberries, cherries, pumpkin. Workers then top the pies with another layer of dough or a thick sprinkling of sugary crumbs.

After assembly, most of the pies are frozen and shipped to Whole Foods stores, where they are baked on premises. Pies hit the shelves within 24 hours of baking. Most of the 9-inch pies sell for $11.99; pumpkin pies cost $9.99 and pecan pies are a little pricier at $14.99.

“The quality is like you made it at home,” said Rollins, whose favorite pie is pecan, followed by apple or maybe blueberry. “But you couldn’t make that pie at home for the same price you can buy it from us.”

From a ball of dough to golden-brown doneness, each pie takes about eight hours to complete, Rollins said.

After all this, he really never gets tired of pie?

“No way!” Rollins said. “Pie is awesome, man.”

This story originally appeared in The Boston Globe on November 21, 2012. Click here to see the story, video of the pie-making facility, and graphics breaking down pie production (pie charts, if you will).