Local entrepreneur Avi Sommerville and her Woodfin-based company are intent on someday achieving global domination.
Her weapon of choice? Cake.
But not just any cake. Sommerville, president and co-owner (with her husband Morgan) of Highcliffe Baked Goods, is the purveyor of the “World’s Best Carrot Cake” (www.worldsbestcarrotcake.com), the production of which is overseen by daughter and chief baker Hannah Layosa. Sommerville’s goal, she says, is to take the company’s carrot cakes worldwide. And because the signature dessert (of which there are four other variations, including a chocolate carrot cake) is vegan and gluten-free, Sommerville says she’d like to become “the New Age Sara Lee.”
The Biz hasn’t tried said cake (we only report—you decide), but we’ll take Sommerville’s word for it—along with that of Earth Fare, Ingles and, most importantly, that of Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural- and organic-foods supermarket chain. All three grocers either sell or plan to sell the cakes in their stores.
Highcliffe recently inked a contract with Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods to initially sell the cakes in the Carolinas, with the hopes of steadily rolling out the product nationally to its more than 265 stores.
Soon, Sommerville says, Ingles will begin selling it locally as well, then expanding distribution to about half its stores in the Southeast, where Sommerville says the up-priced cakes (which sell for $49.99 online) are most likely to sell. Earth Fare was the first to alight the bandwagon and sell the cakes in its stores.
And what about that name? While it may sound like braggadocio, Sommerville says that it’s actually derived from the practically verbatim comments of family, friends and the cake’s earliest commercial consumers.
Sommerville shies away from divulging revenues and other bottom-line indicators of success, but she did tell The Biz that the once-simple Internet-based, mail-order operation that began four years ago and eventually expanded to include a retail operation at its cakery at 175 Weaverville Highway, is now shipping its cakes to the sweet beta-carotene-starved masses via palettes. And, in an especially good week, the business may make and ship 500 cakes, despite a full-time workforce of just six people.
While the business world is new to Sommerville, food is an old friend.
“I grew up with a family that was totally involved with food,” says Sommerville, a Kansas City native who has lived in Asheville since 1969. “My father was a food broker and I had a stay-at-home mother, so our lives revolved around food.”
That obsession only intensified after she married. Also a stay-at-home mother with three home-schooled kids, Sommerville would occasionally serve as a relief chef for her sister, who ran the Greyfield Inn on Georgia’s Cumberland Island. There she had the opportunity to cook for the wedding of the late John F. Kennedy Jr. and wife, Carolyn. And Sommerville and her husband, who were staunch natural- and organic-foods proponents back in the day before the movement became hip, also used to grow and sell sprouts to Ingles. “That was back in the ‘70s when nobody knew what sprouts were,” she says.
But her and her family’s life would change because of the original carrot-cake recipe handed down from her mother-in-law. In fact, Sommerville says, her future husband used the cake to woo her. From there, the cake became a staple at home that managed its way into Sommerville’s catering business and, ultimately, onto the verge of the big time.
“I believe in the cake, and I knew it was going to happen,” Sommerville says. The Whole Foods contract was just the latest step, she adds. The icing on the cake, as it were, is yet to come, she believes. “I intend on building this business and doing it globally.” And belying that confidence, she still professes to be amazed at what has transpired and the promise of the future, especially when she thinks about the family cake gracing the shelves of such places as Whole Foods. “It’s still a little bit shocking,” she says.
The money isn’t free, but the workshop is: Two free Small Business Financing workshops offering on-site small-business-loan applications and other small-business information will take place in Asheville on Monday, Dec. 10, and Tuesday, Dec. 11. A representative from the SBA will discuss the availability of loan programs for small business owners.
For business owners requiring less than $25,000, SBA’s Community Express Loan Program will be featured. Community Express Loans are designed for women, veterans, minorities and rural entrepreneurs. Both start-up and existing businesses are eligible. Participating lenders in this program provide financing from $5,000 to $50,000. Entrepreneurs receive benefits through this program with additional technical assistance to help their success.
To apply for a loan, you must bring a copy of the front and back of your driver’s license; either a federal tax ID number if you’re a corporation, limited-liability company or partnership, or social security number if a proprietorship/self-employed; and a check from a business checking account for possible loan processing if the loan is approved.
The Monday session will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at A-B Tech’s Asheville Mall office. The Tuesday session takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Asheville Economic Development offices (29 Haywood St. downtown). To register for either event, or for more details, contact SBA’s Mike Arriola at at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225-1844.