Entrepreneurs take the spotlight at Localecopia event

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in South Florida, and there’s no better proof than the group of small businesses, including a seafood wholesaler, a spice company, vegetable farmers and more who attended this week’s Localecopia event at The Breakers.

Connecting local chefs and restaurants with local food producers has been the mission of Localecopia, founded in 2007 by Geoffrey Sagrans and Rick Hawkins of The Breakers’ executive purchasing team. Tuesday, about 30 businesses and organizations participated in the biannual event.

Some are one-man or one-woman operators who turned a passion into a business. They find that Localecopia’s business-to-business format provides the perfect networking opportunity.

Betsy Cohen, “chief happy officer” of Happylicious by Betsy, for example, has always loved desserts and blogged about desserts for six years. After being a stay-at-home for for 21 years, and a divorce, she needed a way to earn a living. She was hired by a local pastry shop. The Sugar Monkey in Lake Worth, where she learned the business side of the bakery.

Then, one day, Cohen was eating some cookie dough with her nieces when she decided it was time to turn her love of it into a business.

Cohen, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, created edible, eggless cookie dough balls made with heat-treated flour, so they’re safe to consume raw, and in 2015, incorporated her company. Along with chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookie dough balls, she also makes brownie batter balls. Her newest product is boozy balls — spiked with coconut rum, coffee liqueur or Irish cream whisky.

“It’s something fun and different. I love what I do,” said Cohen, who sells the product online and at 25 stores from Orlando to Miami.

Vince Palmer, a lifelong fisherman who lives in Delray Beach, started Third Wind Seafood four years ago. After selling shrimp wholesale for another company he realized he could fill a niche. He sells local seafood such as tile fish, snapper, swordfish and grouper directly from commercial fishermen to a dozen high-end restaurants, all in Palm Beach County. The quick delivery of fresh local whole fish is the draw.

“It’s a day out of the water,” said Breakers Chef Anthony Sicignano, who said the fish being held on ice would be making its way to the hotel’s seafood bar. “Florida is surrounded by water, but there is not as much fresh fish as one would think.”

Susan Pincus, president and CEO of SoLa Seasonings, based in downtown West Palm Beach, took the Cajun seasonings recipe she made for family and friends in Louisiana for more than 30 years to the next level, after they urged her to do so. After getting advice about how to proceed from Louisiana State University’s extension service, Louisiana native found a co-packer outside of New Orleans, to make the blend of sea salt and other spices, and founded the company two-and-a-half years ago.

“After I retired from the health care field, I had enough time to devote to the business,” Pincus said. The product is sold on the company’s website and at markets such as Carmine’s in Palm Beach Gardens and Doris Italian Market, North Palm Beach.

Long-time Localecopia members Nancy and Charlie Roe of Farming Systems Research have been growing and selling vegetables from Green Cay Farms west of Boynton Beach. They sell the produce to a variety of local restaurants and stores, and also directly to consumers through a subscription service begun in 2000.

Five years ago the Roes had 400 subscribers and a waiting list. Known as “community sponsored agriculture” or CSA the idea is for people to support local agriculture and receive the freshest possible vegetables.

But this year the Roes are down to about 230 subscribers, and think that is due to the growth of online buying clubs and food prep meal services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Those models lack the consumer-to-local farmer connection.

“CSAs allover the country are crashing,” Nancy Roe said.

Roe said ordering produce online from far away is anything but local. In addition, since shipping long distances requires a lot of packaging materials, the process is not environmentally friendly.

The Roes have obtained more local restaurant clients, so their business has not suffered.But they’re opening to a new round of by-the-box subscribers in January.

“Our produce is so fresh. It’s as if you had your own garden,” Roe said. “People are always looking for a tomato that tastes good.”

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