Cedar Rapids Woman Bakes Up Success with Business

By George Ford, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Twenty-five years after she started thinking about owning a business, a Cedar Rapids woman is ready to take her enterprise to the next level.

Carletta Knox Seymour, 56, has been baking up success over the last year with Carletta's Sweet Things, a home-based wholesale supplier of banana bread selling for $6.49 to $7.49 a loaf.

The Cedar Rapids native is supplying seven supermarkets each week with banana bread baked in her southwest Cedar Rapids home.

"The idea of baking and selling banana bread started many years ago with an idea that my mother and I had to make some extra money," Seymour said. 'We also thought about operating a cleaning service."

Seymour moved to Milwaukee shortly after she graduated from high school, living there for 24 years while raising four children. She thought about opening a sandwich shop there, but her former husband was not as enthusiastic about her venture.

"When you're pregnant with a child, you have some interesting cravings," Seymour said. "I came up with some unusual sandwiches that I thought people might really enjoy.

"While my idea of opening a sandwich shop was really grounded, it never became a reality."

Seymour moved back to Cedar Rapids in 1996 and worked in various fields using her degree in journalism. She moved to Los Angeles and later Minnesota before returning to Cedar Rapids in March 2008 after her mother suffered a stroke.

"I needed a job and my minister suggested that I apply for a cleaning position," Seymour said. "I tired of that fairly quickly and saw that there was an opening at a restaurant in The Eastern Iowa Airport. I decided to take the job because it would give me experience in the food business."

A woman of faith, Seymour had begun seeking divine guidance about her future while living in Milwaukee. When she left her job at The Eastern Iowa Airport in May 2009, she kept hearing that "still small voice" telling her to start a food-related business.

"I called the Wilson Avenue Hy-Vee store to see if it would be interested in selling my banana bread, but the managers I need to talk with were off that day," Seymour said.

"I decided to call the Fareway Foods store on 16th Avenue SW, but the manager, Don Erps, was out to lunch. He called back that afternoon, I asked him if he would be willing to sell my banana bread in his store, and to my surprise he seemed interested."

After meeting with Erps, Seymour realized that she needed an appropriate label. Her son, a graphic artist, came up with a label for Vivica's Sweet Things — the initial name for her business — in less than a week.

"Don helped me come up with what I needed to know to get started," she said. "When I changed from Vivica's (her middle name) to Carletta's, a girlfrind in Minneapolis redesigned the label. My mother and my sister have opened their hearts and really supported me in getting this business off the ground."

Seymour's major obstacle was getting permits from the Linn County Health Department and the City of Cedar Rapids to operate a home-based baking business. When the application did not specify what she would be baking, there was a mistaken assumption that she would be operating a commercial bakery, disposing of grease and large amounts of waste ingredients.

Two months after meeting with Erps at Fareway, Seymour launched her business. From the initial Fareway store, it has grown to include the Fareway in Hiawatha as well as five Hy-Vee stores, where her banana bread made without preservatives is sold in the health food section.

She also developed a loyal customer following at the downtown Cedar Rapids farmers markets this year.

"I feel that it's time to look for a commercial storefront," Seymour said. "I would like to be able to sell retail and I also would like to offer additional products like pies that I can't make here due to restrictions on my permits.

"I've also had some interest from surrounding states. It's definitely time to take Carletta's Sweet Things to the next level."
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