Layoffs led to entrepreneurship for Memphis native

Carter Beard started canning jams and jellies as a side project. When he was laid off in 2010, he amped up production and invested in what is now Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods. As kitchen manager for First Congregational Church, he uses the commercial kitchen to scale his business and feed Memphians in need. 
Carter Beard wasn’t thinking about starting a business that offers his unique food creations. In fact, he just wanted to give some of his homemade pepper jellies and other items he created from his garden as gifts.
But people loved the recipes Beard came up with based on tomatoes, chilies and other items from his High Point Terrace garden. He created Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods 15 years ago as a way to sell those high-end and high-quality line of products that includes jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, baked goods and more.
“It’s always been thinking up things to see what I could do,” he said. “I was giving people a jar as a hostess gift or birthday present. People started asking for more and that got expensive.”
Beard began to put a price tag on his products and people were happy to pay. It was a side gig until he suddenly lost his job in health management in 2010. He used a severance package to buy stock and equipment to keep Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods going.
The name comes from his grandmother’s family home outside Nashville. Riverside was a two-story log cabin built as a wedding gift and finished as a large plantation house in 1844. It burned in 2001, so the name is a way to preserve a memory that was important to Beard in creating a food business.

The house had an interior stairway that became the place where things were stored in jars, including peaches, plums, strawberries, figs, peas and carrots that were all grown in the garden out back.
“It’s a memory of a family place with really good food that’s locally grown,” Beard said. “I didn’t want to sound pretentious. It’s a family thing. Generations of good folks on both sides.”
Beard prides himself on his cooking ability. All of the items he sells come from recipes he created or perfected. If he comes across something that sounds good and he thinks he can make it, he heads into the kitchen and gets to work.
Today, the products are found at a variety of shops and festivals around Shelby County such as Curb Market, Poplar Wines and Liquors and Delta Blues Winery. Millstone Market & Nursery in Germantown began selling Beard’s products a year ago. Today, they sell much of his jams, jellies, mustards and pickles.
“We can’t keep it in,” said Jeannie Jones, Landscaping Manager at Millstone Market & Nursery. “Our customers love his stuff. I called him at the 11th hour to do a cake he had never made before for a birthday party. It was over the top. You appreciate those kind of things.”
Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods also caters events such as small luncheons or parties. Beard helps the party organizer set a menu that might include champagne chicken salad, pasta salad with peas and pesto, and cake.
When Beard started the business it was in his High Point Terrace home, but he quickly outgrew his personal kitchen and began looking for commercial kitchens that would enable him to grow. He came across the commercial kitchen at First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young, and he quickly quadrupled production and sales over the last year and a half.
“First Congo wasn’t on my list of people to call because they have a day care and the day care gets priority on the kitchen,” he said. “But a friend of mine called First Congo and she said to call them. I didn’t. She called again and I still didn’t call.”
But after a few more weeks of attempts to find a commercial kitchen went nowhere, Beard finally got in touch with First Congo. The timing worked out perfectly. They wanted a kitchen director who could help the church convert a two-days-a-week soup line into a five-days-a-week lunch program.
“They had 25 men twice a week come through the soup line, which was expensive,” Beard said. “They knew they could make this grow into something larger and more fulfilling if they took it from a soup line to a meal.”
The church hired Beard to cook, and over that summer they took the program from feeding about 25 people twice a week to about 50 people five days a week. Beard stayed on as a consultant after that summer; the program since has grown to feed 90 people five days a week.
That relationship put Beard in a commercial kitchen that enabled him to grow his business. He wants to grow more in eastern Shelby County and Downtown beyond his Midtown roots. He doesn’t envision growing to become a grocery store product; his price point doesn’t make sense for groceries, he said.
For now, Beard has one part-time employee with plans to hire someone full time or a couple of part-time people in the coming year. Of course he needs to weather a slow period that always comes when people go on diets after New Year’s Eve parties. He does enjoy a bump with Super Bowl parties and Valentine’s Day gifts, but he hopes for his inventory of retailers to continue to grow as well as referrals for luncheons and catering events.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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