When most Americans think of English muffins, they probably think of Thomas'. But an upstart bakery called Stone & Skillet is reinventing the English muffin as something that goes beyond morning toast.
The three-year-old company started in Medford, Massachusetts, and is now expanding to the Northeast region of the U.S., with aims to go even farther.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson visits the Stone & Skillet bakery and speaks with co-owners Dan Crothers (@DanCrothers) and Kyle Meekins (@Km0436) about the challenges of rapid growth and big brand-name competition.
On what makes their English muffins different
Dan Crothers: "Well, I think the biggest difference in our muffins compared to what Thomas' is, is the way that it's made. Again, it's all handmade. They don't see any ovens, they're flat-top griddles, so it gives it a nice, golden-brown top and bottom. ... I mean it's almost like a savory doughnut. What's nice about kind of griddling them on the flat tops is you get that fried cornmeal, but you also get kind of crispy top and bottom, and like the nice soft, pillowy inside, too. So there's a lot of different textures going on there, so that I think is the biggest thing that differentiates us from the English muffins that, you know, most people are used to."
On how they decided to get into the English muffin business
Kyle Meekins: "I had the idea when I was working for another artisan bakery as a salesman. Dan was a chef in Boston, and we had a lot of mutual chef friends, and every time I went to try to make a bread sale, they would say, 'Hey, do you guys have any English muffins?' And I'd go back to my boss and he'd say, 'Well we don't make them. That's not really baking, it's kind of this in between cooking and baking.' I came to Dan and I said, 'We have our chef friends, they're curing their own back bacon. They're poaching their eggs in champagne vinegar, and they're putting it on a Thomas' English muffin, and it's not necessarily the right application for them. So let's create the best English muffin in the world, and see what happens.'"
On how Whole Foods started carrying their muffins
KM: "We were at the Boston Food Festival, and we brought what we thought was enough product for the whole five-, six-hour event. And we ultimately ended up running out in an hour. But while we were there, somebody came up to me and said, 'Are you guys in Whole Foods?' And I said, 'No, you know, we've always thought we should be, but we're not.' And he said, 'That's because you haven't met me yet.' And he ended up being one of the local foragers. And within a few months, we were in every Whole Foods in New England, and kinda took off from there. ... We've expanded out to the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Whole Foods. And we're in discussions with the mid-Atlantic region and the Rocky Mountain region as well."
On finding new space and equipment
DC: "The walls are closing in, and we're looking, actively looking, for much larger spaces in and around Boston. We want to stay in Boston, because it's our hometown, and we kind of claim that old New England style, so it's part of the brand. But we're actively looking for more automation, something that keeps the integrity of the product, but also is able to supply the demand that we're starting to recognize nationally."
On the biggest failure they've experienced so far
KM: "Wow. How much time do you have? (laughs) We grew too rapidly. We brought on people on our team really quickly, we ramped up for projected sales that didn't hit as quickly as we thought they would. And then we backed off and the sales hit, so it's just this... when you're growing, you're always trying to find the right ratio of growth to kind of profit."
On whether they're still concerned about the business succeeding
KM: "Well, I mean they say it's the first 18 months, and then, you know, you're in the clear. But I can tell you that that is not the case. You're always at risk."
This segment aired on May 8, 2017.
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