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From beer to batter, entrepreneurs capitalize on social nature of sharing foodBoardwalk Food Co.






Ever dream that your grandpa’s signature hot sauce might be your recipe for success? While starting any business is no easy task, becoming a food entrepreneur is a special challenge. Find out what makes a food-based venture cook with lessons from some of our most recent Tampa Bay startups.

Fifth in a series by 83 Degrees Media.

Fresh concept:  Mini-muffins and soft pretzel baking mixes with a ‘crafty’ twist: the primary ingredient is your favorite craft beer or hard cider. Boardwalk Food Co.’s beer snacks are a smart pairing with the growing brewery culture in the Tampa Bay area.

The dish: Boardwalk Food Co. began, as do many great ventures, over a beer, when founder Andy Yochum saw an opportunity to pair his love of craft brews with his wife's background in food science and baking savvy. 

After working for nearly two decades in corporate sales, Yochum dreamed of starting his own business. When he and his wife, Kim, came across an old recipe for beer bread (which is exactly what it sounds like -- bread made with and flavored by its boozy yeast-family companion), Andy saw an opportunity to put a modern twist on the classic beer loaf recipe. 

"We’re playing off a beer bread concept, but giving it more of a relevant twist with flavorful craft beer because that’s such a popular movement right now," Yochum says. 

Kim, whose professional background is also in sales and human resources, earned her college degree in a different field: food science. Experimenting with beer loaf recipes in the Yochums' home kitchen became not only a creative outlet from her day job, but an entrepreneurial one. 

The Yochums started small, crafting gift-box-style packages of beer loaf baking mixes and demo'ing them with family and friends to discover what could use tweaking in their recipes and business model.

"It didn’t really stand out at first. The gift boxes were attractive to an older demographic, but they weren’t as big into the craft beer scene so there was a disconnect. People were also telling me they didn’t want to make a whole loaf, so we experimented with the recipes and started advertising the mixes to be made in muffin tins -- something more like tiny beer balls," Yochum says.
 
"Our snack mixes are designed to be quick and easy, and they’re designed to be sociable; shared. There's a unique conversation aspect to it," Entrepreneur Andy Yochum says.
Boardwalk Food Co.'s original line of bite-size beer 'Poppers' was born from experimentation. The product launched in September 2014 with three flavors. The Yochum family test kitchen added a line of soft pretzel baking mixes shortly thereafter. 

"The pretzel really resonated with the younger demographic -- and it just fits with craft beer so well," Yochum says. 

Boardwalk Food Co. has since expanded from Kim and Andy's Sarasota home kitchen to a full-scale production facility in Tampa. Today, the company's beer snack mixes ship to hophead home bakers across the country. 

Marketing strategy: Yochum says that transforming the bulky beer loaf recipe into more shareable bite-sized 'Poppers' was Boardwalk's first success in attracting the craft beer demographic -- an audience typically in their mid-20s to mid-40s. 

"Our snack mixes are designed to be quick and easy, and they’re designed to be sociable; shared. There's a unique conversation aspect to it," Yochum says.

Seeking a younger audience, Yochum departed from his initial gift box strategy and began introducing Boardwalk products to gourmet grocery stores in the Sarasota and Tampa Bay area. Today, Boardwalk Food Co.'s beer and snack mixes are available in Tampa Bay-area gourmet grocery markets, retail wine stores, and online for shipping across the U.S. 

What's on the menu: The Boardwalk Food Co. brand offers three flavors in its 'Poppers' and three flavors of soft pretzel.

Popper flavors include: Original, Rosemary Sea Salt and Cornbread.
Pretzel flavors include: Original, Cinnamon Sugar and Rosemary Sea Salt. 

Yochum encourages home bakers to experiment with their favorite craft beer flavors. His advice: get adventurous to discover your favorite batch. As a rule of thumb, stouts and dark beers will produce a darker, more flavorful bread than wheats and pilsners, which produce lighter "crowd friendly" batches. 

Some fun suggestions are: chocolate stouts, hard root beers and cherry colas, flavored hard ciders, saisons and bold, hoppy IPAs. The alcohol content evaporates in the baking process, so these snacks are kid-friendly. 

Where to buy: Boardwalk Food Co. beer snack mixes are available for purchase at more than 30 retail locations in the greater Tampa Bay area, including St. Pete's Locale Market, Sarasota's Big Top Brewing and Morton's Gourmet Market, and at select Bealls locations. 

Visit www.boardwalkfoodco.com to find a retailer near you or for wholesale purchase. Boardwalk Food Co. products are also available on Amazon Prime. 

The next course: Boardwalk Food Co. plans to team up with craft brewers to develop ready-to-eat versions of their beer snacks, as well as no-bake pairings -- think craft beer-inspired spicy mustard.

Yochum says the company is also looking into developing a food service version of the product. Craft beer fans should be on the lookout for Boardwalk Food Co. products on restaurant menus in the future.

Food for thought: If you have a unique idea for a new food product, the best course of action is to "get started and be patient--and don’t panic," Yochum says.

"The biggest thing is this: you get into this and you have this great idea. You’ve thought it all through, it’s yours, and you’ve made -- but there's a good chance you’re going to find out once you get going that you have a couple things wrong," so don't be afraid of going back to the drawing board to perfect your idea, he stresses. 

"It’s impossible to know everything, and it’s impossible to foresee everything, so you have to set your ego aside and be willing to learn and make adjustments. We listened, and that helped us develop a better product. That’s the patience end of it.”

83 Degrees Media's series on foodie entrepreneurs:
 
 
 

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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