By GREGORY ZELLER // Michelle Gillette Kelly is living the American Dream. The gluten-free version, anyway.
The baker and her products have gone through several permutations in recent years, from sales at local farmer’s markets to opening and shuttering a Bayport bakery to focusing exclusively on Internet sales.
Now things are getting real: With a new website that went live in October and the Ms. Michelle’s brand gracing a growing number of Long Island and New York City markets, the entrepreneur and her husband/business partner Chris Kelly are about to announce an agreement with a major national retailer.
A major national retailer.
Contractually, they can’t discuss it yet; an official announcement is expected to come shortly after Thanksgiving. But Kelly admits she’s “nervous excited” about the breakthrough, which follows a whirlwind six months for Cooking With Ms. Michelle, the corporation behind the Ms. Michelle’s brand.
Recent sweet success has included placement on the shelves of Lombardi’s and Uncle Giuseppe’s markets across Long Island, as well as deals with Sayville’s Cornucopia Natural Foods and Amagansett’s IGA supermarket.
Ms. Michelle’s products are also available at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead and the Roast Coffee & Tea Trading Co. in Patchogue, as well as three NYC-based markets – including the Key Food outlet at Fulton Market – with a deal with another independent store expected to be formalized soon.
“It literally is a true America Dream,” Kelly told Innovate LI. “It’s like one of those things you always hear about. That’s how I feel in my stomach.”
Stomachs, of course, are the focus of most food-related enterprises, though in Ms. Michelle’s case it goes beyond filling them with tasty treats. The Kellys have focused their online – and increasing retail-based – operations exclusively on gluten-free products, offering scrumptious goods for customers intolerant of traditional wheat-, barley- and rye-based proteins.
The current lineup: chocolate chip, double chocolate, oatmeal raisin and sugar-cookie, with new recipes in the wings.
Bowing to the continuing clamor of former customers of the now-shuttered Ms. Michelle’s Urban Gourmet bakery, Kelly will also be making a special one-shot appearance at Roast on Nov. 22, packing an assortment of muffins and pies.
And no, it’s not coincidence that her Roast cameo comes just four days before Thanksgiving.
“People are really missing the bakery,” she said. “For some, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a Ms. Michelle’s pie on the table.”
Cooking With Ms. Michelle is still based out of Stony Brook University’s Business Incubator at Calverton, which dedicates a large percentage of its space to a rotating selection of gastronomical startups. The company, which moved into the incubator in July, “will stay as long as we can,” Kelly noted, citing the incubator’s exceptional resources.
“The equipment that I have there is like nothing that I had when I owned my own bakery,” she said. “I still do everything by hand, but the production is a lot greater than what I could have done before. The ovens are just amazing.”
However, whether or not the Kellys will be able to meet the demands of that major national retailer working by themselves from their part-time Calverton Incubator setup remains to be seen.
Either way, for these entrepreneurs, the dough is just starting to rise.
“It’s one of those it-really-can-happen-to-you things,” Kelly said. “I just can’t believe it’s real yet.”