NECI Success - Gathering Grains Artisan Granola

Once used to prepare meals for members of the elegant and exclusive Pickwick Club in downtown Niles, Michigan, the 12,000-square-foot kitchen with its gleaming stainless steel workstations and professional-grade appliances is now available for anyone with a desire to be the next Mrs. Fields.
Opened last year, the Niles Entrepreneurial and Culinary Incubator (NECI) has already seen several clients move to the next level in their endeavor to become successful food entrepreneurs
Andrea Martin didn’t initially plan on starting a business. She just wanted to avoid feeding her children foods containing genetically modified grains, chemicals and preservatives whose names she couldn’t pronounce and decidedly unhealthy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. And so she created a granola recipe that first wowed her family and then friends.
“Everyone that I gave it to said it was the best granola,” Martin recalls. “So I thought I’d try selling it.” Naming her product Gathering Grains Artisan Granola, Martin first sold it at the French Market, a seasonal farmers market in Niles. Success led Martin to try creating a wholesale market for her product. To do so, she signed up for incubator space, but
also partook of NECI’s training opportunities. She was able to place her granola in local stores like the Shelton’s Farm Market in Niles, the Watervliet Fruit Exchange, Utopia Coffee Shop in Dowagiac now and the Granger Farmers Market.
“Because it’s an entrepreneurial incubator, we work with people to help them be the most successful they can be,” says Croteau as we walk past a doubledoor convection oven, walk-in cooler, 10-burner gas stove top and oven, proofer, freezer and 20-quart Hobart mixer.
“You can make the best cookie in the world but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a successful business. This gives people the chance to find out before investing in a culinary kitchen.”
NECI courses include such subjects as business planning, finance, marketing and food production assistance, all to help get their clients licensed by the Department of Agriculture so they can sell their products.

Open 24/7 and charging by the hour, the kitchen lets people schedule their time when it’s convenient for them. Besides a place to prepare food, the kitchen area has a packaging station. And, says Croteau, they’re always ready to consider adding new equipment.



Travel/food writer Jane Simon Ammeson lives in Stevensville, Michigan