Keeping up the tradition of being covered in flour and making fresh biscuits from scratch is a passion for Carey Morey.
By DENISE K. JAMES
Biscuits are a staple of southern cuisine. They're versatile, tasty, and often instill fond traditions. Carrie Morey's inspiration to start Callie's Charleston Biscuits, a booming enterprise named after her mother, came about in much the same fashion.
"I was born and raised in Charleston and my mother has always been a fabulous cook," says Morey with enough conviction to make my stomach rumble. "In particular, she made these country ham biscuits from scratch that everyone loved. She's obsessed with food, and I grew up to be that way, too."
Morey describes how she longed to find a way to merge the love of food that she inherited from her mother with a savvy business plan. When she approached her mother, Callie, with the notion of starting Callie's Charleston Biscuits, the idea seemed too good to be true at first.
"We are coming up on our seventh year and we honestly never thought it would get to this point," says Morey. "The fact that Callie's Biscuits has transformed into such a successful enterprise is really unexpected."
The first year of the business was a hectic one, with the Callie's Biscuits crew renting kitchen space about once a month from a catering company in Mount Pleasant. Morey describes how diligently she worked to introduce the product by participating in events (such as the Wine and Food Festival) and doing grassroots marketing--and it worked; by the end of the first six months, they had six or seven stores already carrying the biscuits.
"I would sit down with the shop owners and a plate of hot, buttery biscuits," remembers Morey with a smile. "I literally buttered them up--I asked them whether they would carry the biscuits in their shops, and whether they thought the customers would purchase them. It was a pretty unique idea we were introducing; no one really makes biscuits from scratch that often these days. A lot of people just use instant ones."
Morey completely gives credit to the food itself for her successful marketing methods. She says that marketing food items is not terribly effective on paper, and that "putting a biscuit in someone's mouth" is the best way to advertise that she can think of. I certainly agree with her.
After the first year and for the next few, Callie's Biscuits was located in a little kitchen on upper Meeting Street. Then, one magical day, Morey was introduced to a producer on the Food Network.
"I attended a seminar on marketing and one of the panelists happened to be a producer," she says. "Once our business got featured on the Food Network, it really blew up."
The "blow up" of the business eventually led Morey and her team to their current location, a beautiful and historic home in Charleston's old Navy Yard. The place feels perfect for baking biscuits, with its original wood floors, tall ceilings, and the mood that much cooking has happened within its walls over the years.
"Our lease was up at the Meeting Street kitchen last year," explains Morey. "We knew we needed to move; our computers were covered in flour, we had no space, we didn't even have a loading dock. But I didn't want an industrialized, factory space. We're not an assembly line here; we're creating homemade biscuits from scratch. I could feel, when I walked into this historic house, that it's the perfect place for us to be."
Morey gives me a little tour of the place while I'm there, and she was right; it's a great spot for a biscuit-making enterprise. The day I'm visiting, the crew is busy creating a batch of Callie's Pimento Cheese, a homemade delight made with all natural ingredients, which comes in regular and "fiery." (Later, at my house, I try the pimento cheese and it's divine. And it tastes like I just made it myself--if I knew how to make pimento cheese, that is.)
The next room Morey brings me into is where the famous biscuits are baked and then prepared for travel to other kitchens. Each biscuit is baked in-house and sealed and frozen for shipment, which means there's never any raw dough to worry about spoiling.
"September 2012 was our busiest month yet," Morey says with pride, showing me where the biscuits are frozen until they leave the house. "Normally, we have many more biscuits stacked high on these shelves, but we sold an incredible amount of them...it's time to restock!"
As for flavors of biscuits, well, the Callie's Charleston Biscuits team has you covered from savory to sweet. The company's two original flavors, country ham & cheese and cheese & chive, have been around since the biscuits first started baking in 2005. After the success of those two flavors, the team added classic buttermilk and cinnamon.
"Nowadays, we also have a black pepper bacon biscuit, and a shortcake biscuit, which is essentially a dessert," says Morey. "It's cakelike with vanilla and raw sugar on top."
All of the biscuit varieties, as well the pimento cheese, are made on location, but Callie's Biscuits offers several other yummy food products that are outsourced to other local creators.
"We have Bloody Mary mix, local honey, CawCaw bacon by the pound...and we're adding other products this year," says Morey. "Soon we'll have peach basil jam, country savory sausage, locally milled grits, even roasted pecans and whole bean coffee."
Besides adding a catalog of tasty extras, Callie's Biscuits will put out a company cookbook in 2013 and "perhaps a retail store in the house if the Navy Yard continues to grow," says Morey.
After my tour of the Biscuit House, I pretty much figure out that Morey and her team are generous with the space, so it comes as no surprise when I learn about the other projects that often go on in the facility.
"We host children's birthday parties, where kids can come to the house and make their own biscuits," says Morey. "We also rent kitchen space at very reasonable prices to local folks in the food industry who need a kitchen. We probably have about five people who rent one day per week."
"So what is it like, being the head of this awesome project?" I ask her. "And does your mom, Callie, work with all of you?"
"My mom retired from the business a couple of years ago," says Morey. "As for me, I stay busy with cooking and planning constantly--plus raising my three daughters."
"What is your personal favorite of all the biscuit flavors?" I ask her.
"Ooh, I go back and forth all the time," she admits with a chuckle. "It depends on the meal and the time of day, frankly. But I'll go with the black pepper and bacon biscuit. Bacon goes well with everything!"