Loans help three local food businesses get bigger

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) will issue loans that will allow three area businesses to ramp up their respective production of croutons, whiskey and a traditional Indian smoothie called “lassi.”
Robin Scheu, executive director of the ACEDC, confirmed on Monday her organization will lend a combined total of around $120,000 to Olivia’s Croutons of New Haven, DAHlicious Lassi of Shoreham and the new Appalachian Gap Distillery in Middlebury’s industrial park.
“It’s very exciting to be able to lend out this money,” Scheu said of the funds from the ACEDC’s Intermediary Re-lending Program. The United States Department of Agriculture loaned the money to the ACEDC around a year ago to stimulate local business growth. The borrowers will be charged an interest rate of 7 percent, with payback expected in five to seven years. The return of interest and principal will keep the loan fund growing and keep it available to future borrowers needing to fill financial gaps in their business expansion plans.
“As companies repay, the pot (of money) grows,” Scheu said.
Olivia’s Croutons will be the first loan recipient to put its expansion plans into motion. Francie Caccavo launched the small company in her family’s home in 1991 and eventually relocated the thriving business into a renovated barn in New Haven in 2006. Olivia’s (named after Francie and David’s daughter, Olivia) has been growing steadily and currently boasts several varieties of croutons and seasonal stuffing, all made with Vermont ingredients.
Olivia’s recently received, through the ACEDC, 35 hours of free counseling on product development from an “economic gardening” consultant. That research gave Olivia’s the confidence to plow into a very viable expansion category — gluten-free croutons.
“We have known for a while there was this opportunity,” said Caccavo, noting Olivia’s had previously produced a gluten-free product for a different company until 2006, when it was clear that separate facilities would be needed. She explained some people choose gluten-free products as a lifestyle choice, but others cannot consume gluten because of medical conditions like celiac disease. That means the conventional croutons and gluten-free varieties must be made separately. Gluten-free croutons are made from bread made with millet, sorghum, brown and white rice flours and a blend of starches.
Thanks to the ACEDC loan and other financing, Olivia’s will soon fire up production equipment in its new, gluten-free workplace, consisting of 2,500 square feet in Anthony’s Neri’s building at 656 Exchange St. in Middlebury.
Caccavo anticipates the new facility will produce around 1,500 pounds of gluten-free products per day, beginning with a garlic-flavored crouton. The new gluten-free operation will also put out a rosemary-and-sage stuffing and, eventually, a multi-grain crouton and perhaps a cracker or toast, according to Caccavo.
“It’s an excellent product,” she said. “And it’s nutritionally superior to the other products out there.”
Olivia’s already has a distribution system for its products, so the gluten-free varieties can be slipped in rather seamlessly. New markets will also be created, Caccavo said confidently.
“The market for gluten-free products is growing fast,” she noted.
Olivia’s expects to add four new, full-time workers to its current roster as a result of the new space, according to Caccavo. The company currently employs five full-timers and a few part-timers.
Joining Olivia’s in the move will be Yolo Snacks, makers of “gourmet, ready to eat popcorn.” The company is co-owned by Peter Gutsell and Steve Faust. Yolo has been renting space at Olivia’s and will now sublet 1,000 square feet of space from Olivia’s within the Neri building to make its popcorn, which is gluten-free.
“I think it’s great,” Neri said of his new tenants. “We’re pretty happy about having them there.”
Also receiving an ACEDC loan was DAHlicious Lassi, which has been producing a probiotic blend of Indian-style yogurt containing real fruits and made from milk derived from rBST-free, grass-fed cows. DAHlicious has been sharing production facilities at Shoreham’s Millborne Farm, which produces its own line of drinkable yogurts.
DAHlicious owner J.D. Sethi said his company has outgrown the small space at Millborne and has been looking to locate to more spacious quarters to keep up with demand for its very popular lassi. Limited space has limited DAHlicious to making small batches of lassi.
“The cost of manufacturing has been extremely high,” Sethi said. “We could only make small amounts of milk.”
With a loan package now in place, DAHlicious will be able to move into around 3,000 square feet of rented space within the Vermont Refrigerated Storage facility in Shoreham. There, the company will have the space to make and bottle its lassi and run multiple shifts to the point of putting out an estimated four tractor trailer loads per week — quadruple what it is able to make now.
Sethi anticipates being able to soon double his workforce, which consists of six workers, two of whom are full-time. And more manufacturing capacity will drive the need for more milk, which he has historically obtained from the Crawford Family Farm in Whiting. Sethi is talking to other farmers about supplementing his supply.
Sethi is pleased to be able to keep his company in Addison County, calling the region “key to my corporate strategy.”
Rounding out the loan recipients is the Appalachian Gap Distillery, which is being installed in a portion of the Friday Group LLC 6,000-square-foot headquarters at 88 Mainelli Road. Friday Group LLC President Lars Hubbard has found two very interesting ventures to cohabitate with his company, which provides architectural specification services and related software to clients throughout the world who are designing large and complex buildings. He is renting one third of the building’s 6,000 square feet to the Champlain Valley Creamery, makers of award-winning organic cream cheese. He’s carved off another 2,000 feet for a whiskey distillery, which will source ingredients from area farms. The loan will help Hubbard buy equipment used in the whiskey making process, Scheu explained.
Appalachian Gap Distillery has already received the town permits it needs, but will still need to acquire federal permitting to begin operations by this fall, Scheu said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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