Auburn University hosting Food Entrepreneur Conference March 14-15

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – After discovering what many consider to be the perfect chicken salad recipe and starting their first restaurant in Auburn only five years ago, Stacy Brown and her business partner and husband, Kevin Brown, are now in the process of establishing more than 50 Chicken Salad Chick franchises in five states.

Countless aspiring food entrepreneurs want what the Browns have achieved: a business that is popular, thriving, and, most of all, highly profitable.

Stacy Brown and several other successful entrepreneurs will share their experiences of starting and growing their own food-related businesses at Auburn University’s Food Systems Institute’s Food Entrepreneur Conference March 14-15 at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

Nationally renowned food entrepreneur Patricia Barnes of Troy, also known as Sister Schubert, will kick off the conference March 14 at 11:30 a.m. Barnes began baking her signature rolls through what she describes as her “little bitty catering business” called The Silver Spoon. From these humble beginnings, she ultimately built the popular product line known as Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls.  She will share how she transformed a tiny business operated out of her kitchen into a national brand.

From 1:30-5:30 p.m., experts from the Small Business Development Center at Auburn University will present a segment called “Basic Business Building Blocks,” covering everything from writing a business plan to securing financing.

A networking dinner will follow that evening beginning at 7 p.m. A panel discussion featuring several regional food entrepreneurs will follow the dinner, which will be prepared from locally grown food.

The conference will resume March 15 at 8:30 a.m. with a segment titled “Food Business Building Blocks.” It will feature essential facts about food entrepreneurship, including the fundamentals of regulation and the requirements for labeling and testing products.

Stacy Brown will cap off the day with a noon discussion about how a call from the health department – she wasn’t allowed to sell chicken salad prepared in her home kitchen – prompted her to develop a comprehensive food safety plan for her products.

Jean Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension food safety specialist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and food science, said one of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is learning how to interact with the right people at the right time.

“One of the things we want to achieve with this conference is to bring the people together who want to sell and who want to buy with the end goal of moving locally grown and manufactured products,” she said.

“All too often, for example, there is a fruit and vegetable farmer who wants to sell a product, but the perennial challenge remains finding someone – a supplier or a local restaurant – willing to buy it.”

Weese and the other conference presenters will talk about both large-scale and small-scale food processing, among other subjects.

“We’re going to cover everything associated with processing from meats to jams, jellies and acidified foods,” Weese said, adding that a special focus of the conference will be acquainting participants with the regulatory hurdles that must be cleared to become a processor.

Another focus will be on a voluntary U.S. Department of Agriculture auditing program known as Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, which is designed to ensure that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

A number of Auburn University faculty members are already working with aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses to provide the help they need.

“Our idea is to provide a central clearinghouse for food-entrepreneur-related information,” said Pat Curtis, director of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute.

“The Extension food safety team, along with the Small Business Development Center and specialists in animal science, fisheries, horticulture and other disciplines all work to help get small businesses off the ground, so we’re bringing everybody together in one place.”

Registration is $125 before and $150 after March 1. To register, contact Regina Crapps at (334) 844-7456 or email her at or visit

(Written by Jim Langcuster.)

Contacts: Jean Weese, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, (334) 844-3269, (; Jacqueline Kochak, Auburn University Food Systems Institute, (334) 844-7465, (; or Charles Martin, Auburn University Office of Communications and Marketing (334) 844-9999, (