Entrepreneur: Anne Milneck
Photography by Don Kadair
COMPANY Red Stick Spice Co.
ADDRESS 660 Jefferson Highway
WHAT THEY DO Family-owned purveyor of fresh spices, loose teas, olive oil and local ingredients
NEXT GOALS Continue expansion into area grocery stores with wholesale accounts and open a tea bar
GETTING IN THE MIX
When Anne Milneck thinks back to when she first stepped onto Baton Rouge’s culinary scene, she describes herself as “late to the party.” At 40, the mother of two earned a bachelors of science in culinary arts at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in 2010 and soon after began her own catering business. “It was really tough on my family,” Milneck says. So when the retiring owners of Red Stick Spice Co. offered Milneck—a regular customer and friend—the opportunity to buy the store in late 2012, it felt like a perfect fit. “It kept me around what I like, food and cooking, but got me out of the stress and tough parts of running an actual food business.” She turned to her husband, Greg—founder and president of local production studio Digital FX—for help spicing up Red Stick Spice Co.’s brand and marketing efforts.
FINE TUNING THE FLAVOR
Red Stick’s reputation for offering a variety of high-quality spices, teas, oils and vinegars served as a strong foundation. Milneck sought early on to build on the business model by introducing new product lines, changing the labels and revamping the website. She also knew she needed a new location with better visibility and parking. Following a successful pop-up event at Mid City’s White Light Night, Milneck set her sights on the neighborhood. In the meantime, she opened Red Stick’s second location at the Main Street Market and launched wholesale accounts with local supermarkets. But perhaps the most fundamental change in the business model was Milneck’s shift away from catering to foodies. “I’m a chef, but first a home cook and a mom, so my expertise lies in really being able to connect with home cooks so that is what we are all about.”
COOKING UP SOLUTIONS
Now more than a year at their new home on Jefferson Highway near Government Street, Milneck is enjoying the ability to engage with the community in new ways. “We have a teaching space and a demo kitchen where we host cooking classes. Varsity Sports just held a run from our store … it is also a space that is available to community organization that need a spot to gather.” Most days Milneck can be found in the demo kitchen either teaching classes or developing new recipes, which she says is the number one request they get from customers. “They will pick up a product and ask ‘How do I use this?’ We try to answer that every single day through recipes on our website, in our newsletter or on social media.” Problem solving is Milneck’s primary marketing strategy. “Whether their problem is a gift, an ingredient or a cooking dilemma, that is what we are here for.”
READING THE TEA LEAVES
Being Baton Rouge’s leading purveyor of fine spices, teas and oils comes with its challenges, especially with Red Stick’s commitment to sourcing clean and fair products. “When you source things like fair trade and certified organic, the price is going to go up and that is sometimes a tough conversation to have when customers can go just a few blocks and purchase it from a large retailer at a much lower price.” But Milneck points out that just buying what you need from a local shop like Red Stick is often a more economical approach. At their new location, Milneck says the biggest surprise has been the popularity of their house-blended teas. Red Stick currently sells cups of its SOGO—or South of Government—house-brand of tea to-go and will soon be offering iced tea. Looking ahead, she hopes to tap into that demand further with a stand-alone SOGO tea bar.