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Students Cooking up Tasty Business

Forrest Reed ’14 says his mother always made an awesome tomato sauce, but the sauce stayed in the family’s home until Forrest – an accounting and finance major – took a managerial accounting class during Hiram’s spring 2011 three-week term. As part of a class project, Forrest and his classmates had to devise a mock business and figure out how to finance it. A year after that class, Forrest and a small cluster of classmates and family have taken that family recipe and cooked up 7th Symphony Sauce, the inaugural product of R&R Specialty Foods, a limited liability company.

They contracted with Hospitality Sales and Marketing, LLC, a company based in Union, Ill., to nail down the exact recipe, research and prepare the nutritional facts, meet FDA requirements, and bottle the product. Bottling of 7th Symphony began in early June, 2012, and on June 11, Forrest and his partners held in hand the first commercially produced bottles of 7th Symphony. Already, the sauce has a home at local establishments, including Thayer’s Select Meats in Parma, Molisan Italian Foods in Broadview Heights, Pleasant Valley Euro Market, Narrin’s Asian Spice at the West Side Market in Cleveland, and it will soon be featured on the menu at Fat Little Buddies restaurant in Olmsted Township. The company is also in the process of making arrangements with establishments such as Heinen’s and Whole Foods.

An Interdisciplinary Effort

To be sure, Forrest did not pull this off alone. “My parents are my business partners and co-owners for R&R,” he says. “My father is the certified financial officer and my mother is the head of research and development. My father has 20 years’ experience in accounting, and my mother has spent over 25 years working as a writer, teacher, project manager and research developer for several companies and colleges.” In addition to his parents, Forrest has teamed up with three other Hiram students to make his business idea a reality. Brendan Curtin ’13, a creative writing major, concentrates on writing content for the company. He’ll also write blog entries for the web site. He came up with the name for the product – “it’s kind of an orchestra of flavors,” he says. And while an outside company developed the 7th Symphony label, Brendan will be working on the labeling for products in the pipeline.

Mike Gatta ’14, a communication major, came up with “the undiscovered taste” slogan for the sauce, but his primary function with the start-up is contacting the stores and merchants to carry the product.

Brendan notes that Bryan Nemire ’13, an environmental studies and biology double major, is interested in sustainable and polycrop farming techniques. Forrest adds that because Bryan has a farm and plans to expand it, in time “he’ll produce our products” used to make the sauces.

Reflecting Hiram’s interdisciplinary focus, these four are an eclectic team, bringing an accounting and finance major, a creative writing major, an environmental studies/biology major, and a communication major together to give the business breadth. “That was my goal coming together,” Forrest says. “I wanted a little bit of each.”

They’ve used marketing guides to help with sales and promotions, and the company has an extensive business plan, as well as a professionally-developed marketing plan. “We have had one-on-one help from Jim Cermak a marketing professional. He’s pointed us in the right direction working on the company and product name and slogan; he also led us to Kaptur Design in Lakewood to make the website, labels and display cases,” Forrest says.

The Hiram College community was instrumental in empowering the project, and not just in the classroom. Forrest, Brendan, and Bryan are all cross country team members, and they did no small part of their brainstorming during training runs. Brendan notes, “Our practice runs gave us the time to swap ideas. We’d be out for an eight or 10 mile run, swapping slogan ideas,” while running along SRs 700, 305 and 82. “The roads of Hiram have given birth to creative ideas,” he says with a laugh.

The support of the faculty and staff, not to mention to the small, intimate nature of the College, fostered the entrepreneurs’ friendships, then their burgeoning business. Forrest says the leadership qualities he encounters at Hiram have been invaluable. “The classes focus not only on now but on the future. That managerial accounting class did wonders for this idea of going into business for myself,” he says. “Then I did a summer entrepreneur project with the entrepreneur team, and that’s when I thought, ‘I have an idea; now let’s go with it.’”

He also puts credit solidly where he believes it’s most due. “Honestly, I have two great parents; they’ve been my two best mentors.”

In case you’re wondering if this fast-moving entrepreneurial success comes at the expense of the students’ educations, fear not. Forrest says they concentrated their energies on the business during the summer, “because once school comes, this is taking a back seat. School has to come first.” And they found a way to balance their business and education. “We’re Dean’s List students here,” Forrest says.

Local Flavor

What makes 7th Symphony different from all the other products out there? “I think there are two big reasons,” Brendan says. “The first is its versatility. It can be used on so much; it’s not just a steak sauce or barbeque sauce. Then the other reason is the health aspect. If you look at the nutrition facts of other sauces – soy sauces, barbeque sauces, hot sauces – it’s hard to find one under 200 mg of sodium. Ours has about 10 percent of that, no fat, less than one gram of sugar per serving.”

Forrest agrees, adding, “7th Symphony is a healthy sauce with low fat and sodium and can be used with ham, chicken, fish, steak, appetizers and Italian sausage. It’s a sweet and spicy Italian sauce from my mother’s family heritage in Italy.”

Once the company has gained solid financial footing, “we’re going to open a small manufacturing company in the Valley View area,” Forrest says. “We want to expand. We have more products up the pipeline. We have a blueberry sauce, we have a pasta sauce, we have an eggplant sauce, we have baked beans. We have restaurants in the Akron and Cleveland area who want to come to us to produce their dressings under our name. So we’re looking at a lot of business for a long time.”

Ultimately, Forrest wants to work with R&R Specialty Foods full time when he graduates, “and I want Brendan, Bryan, and Mike to have full-time jobs.” Forrest wants the company to serve as a leader in the community, providing regional business and employment opportunities, “not just for my own friends and family, but others. Maybe one day college kids can run this, too,” he speculates, especially as the company expands its product line. The 7th Symphony Sauce may be the first product, but it won’t be the last for R&R Specialty Foods, whose company slogan – “Let us complete your meal” – speaks to its mission: to share love of food and family with others.

Learn more about R&R Specialty Foods at contact@randrspecialtyfoods.com, 216.901.0411, www.randrspecialtyfoods.com.

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