Callie’s Biscuits Rise to Fame
By: Kathleen Curry
Biscuits. They’re a quintessentially American quick bread. They have a handful of basic ingredients, embodying just how simple delicious can be. Ironically, they are not quick or easy to master for light, fluffy, melt in your mouth results; it takes a practiced hand. Like other Lowcountry lost arts, Sweetgrass baskets and wrought iron gates, for example, those with “practiced hands” have a way of making their craft look easy. Callie White is among them; she grew up making biscuits several times a day in a family of native South Carolinians. With her daughter , Carrie Bailey-Morey at the helm, they are keeping this family tradition strong and very much alive, while making it easier than ever for everyday overscheduled families to enjoy them too.
To start this story from scratch, White had made biscuits for friends and family for years as a caterer. By 2005, she was eyeing retirement. Morey had another idea; she had been working as a financial advisor, but needed a change of pace once she had children. She was watching her mom make biscuits one day, but it was as if for the first time. You could say she saw it through an investor’s eyes--how much potential handmade biscuits had beyond parties and holidays, and what a loss it would be to see this tradition completely disappear because of modern families’ time constraints. Morey convinced her mother not to retire, but rewire, with a food business outside of entertaining. Callie’s Charleston Biscuits (CCB) was born.
They started small, by making biscuits once a week and selling them at local grocers. They were so well-received that Morey left finance to invest in the business full-time. White retired in 2009; these days, a staff of personally trained biscuit makers, many also moms themselves, turn out an estimated 200,000 biscuits a year. The biscuits are made by hand, the rolling pins are wood, and the oven is the only machine in the entire process. Morey explains that their bakers do not wear gloves because determining the dough's consistency at each step is impossible when wearing gloves. The bakers’ hands are kept impeccably clean by frequent washing. She adds that restaurant chefs, nor Food Network celebrities, wear gloves either.
The biscuits are available in the freezer aisles of Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly, Ted's Butcherblock, Caviar & Bananas, and Our Local Food. Around the country, they are available in most of the continental United States. A state by state shopping guide, a recipe blog, press coverage, and web ordering are all accessible on their site, calliebiscuits.com. Partner product lines that can be added to a web order include Cawcaw Creek bacon, Jack Rudy Tonic, Fat and Juicy Bloody Mary mix, and Carolina Honey. All of the partner products, like CCB, are made in South Carolina. Once purchased, all they require is thawing, separation, and reheating for eating.
Last year, CCB moved into a historic officer’s residence at the Navy Yard-Noisette--a preservative was lacquered onto its 95 year old hardwood floors, walls and windows were moved for workspace, and a loading dock was installed; otherwise the building is the same. With its inviting wraparound porch, it is a great location available for parties, special events, and cooking workshops.
CCB has appeared in the following regional and national publications, including Skirt!, Saveur, Southern Living, O, Martha Stewart Living, Cottage Living, Real Simple, Wine Spectator, Country Living, Hallmark, Where, Southern Lady, Charleston Magazine, Coastal Living, Charleston City Paper, Charleston Regional Business Journal and the New York Times. Ten years ago, White told Skirt! her motto was, “timing is everything”; ten years later, Morey says her motto is “be passionate about what you do and if you are going to do it--do it well, 100%, or don't do it at all!”
Handmade biscuits are a novelty in today’s marketplace, but Morey also credits the National Association of Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) in their success. This organization may not be a household name, but it is a boon for unique food products to gain major recognition in an already crowded marketplace. Membership, participation in shows, and awards often determine what regional foods become nationwide household names, and which remain under the radar. Morey says, “we never would have met the producers of Food Network if it were not for NASFT. [Coverage on Food Network’s Unwrapped Series heated up demand in 2006, and it hasn’t slowed down since!] It can be intimidating going to your first Fancy Food Show as a small business owner; questions like, if I join, can I keep up? come to mind. But membership and competition are totally worth it. “
Speaking of competition, White's products have been nominated six times in the last five years for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation (SOFI) awards. In 2008, they were a Silver Finalist and Gold Winner for Cheese Biscuits; in 2009, they were Silver Finalist for Cocktail Ham Biscuits; in 2011, they were a Silver Finalist for Black Pepper Bacon and Buttermilk Biscuits; and this year, they are Silver Finalists for their Fiery Pimiento Cheese, Charleston Shortcake and Cheese and Chive biscuits. Next month in Washington DC, they will attend the Summer Fancy Food Show, where they will possibly take home 1, 2 or 3 more Gold trophies for the kitchen shelf. CCB’s goal is to be an international company, shipping biscuits all over the world. Morey says they excited about existing opportunities and ones that will come down the road. I asked if White had written an entertaining guide or other book, or had one in the works. Morey told me, she hasn't but she ought to.
Until that book arrives, ‘enjoy the biscuits, with seasonal berry shortcake for dessert. I know I will.
Kathleen Curry is a Lowcountry native an alumni of C of C, Carolina and Greenville Tech. In addition to contributing to Eat This! , Curry has a blog at bakingkookys.com; she is on twitter @BakingKookys and @ Currying_Favor.