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Meet Michelle Collins of Chelle’s Cutie Pies in Edgewater

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Collins.

Michelle, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and I was raised in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean. After High School, I relocated to the US, where I obtained my BS in Hospitality Management from the Rosen School at the University of Central Florida.

The majority of my career has been in Hotel Sales specializing in the corporate travel segment. After being corporate America for over 15 years, I went back to school and obtained my MBA with a specialization in Negotiations from the Chapman School of Business at Florida International University. After graduating with my MBA last year, I took some time off to figure out what my next step will be.

My opportunity came to me by sheer accident. On Christmas Day of 2019, I offered to make a sweet potato casserole to take to a Christmas dinner. As I started to peel the sweet potato, I realized that it was white instead of orange. Undeterred, I recalled a white sweet potato recipe from my Caribbean roots, repurposed the pie and it was a huge hit. Curious, I decided to make a pie with the recipe. In January, I started consulting for two hotels in Austin, Texas- Hotel Indigo Downtown and the Holiday Inn Express Downtown. I mentioned to Chef Colbert, the Executive Chef, my desire to develop my pie concept. He graciously gave me access to the kitchen to tweak my recipe. I would get to access the kitchen after to 10:00 pm to work on my pie ideas. In February, I launched my first pie to a female entrepreneurship group in Austin, TX, to great reception. Later that month, I decided to go big or go home. I became a vendor at Vegan Chill, the largest vegan festival in the state of Texas, with over 3000 attendees. I put myself to the test and made almost (50) pies I received rave reviews from the attendees at the festival.

In March, the General Manager at the hotels that I was consulting for offered to carry my pies in the grab and go hotel market. My pies were doing well and then Covid19 happened. The pandemic forced me to pivot, returning to Miami where I came up with a new strategy. I used this time to create new flavors. Since May, I have negotiated five retail partners: Lilikoi Organic Living in South Beach, Live Love Café in Wynwood, The Plantisserie in Little River District, Beehive Juice Bar in West Miami and most recently Green Gables Cafe in Coral Gables. Currently, I am in the process of securing a major wholesale account. Chelle’s Cutie Pies is a vegan wholesaler. My short term goal for the company is to partner with national food retailers who will carry my products.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have been many challenges along the way. I have experienced many disappointments and setbacks. The biggest setback being Covid19. It definitely threw a curveball in my plans. Having to sell and negotiate during the pandemic has been the most challenging due to our “new normal” in the food industry. This has changed how I have had to interact with customers and potential clients.Thankfully, my sales background in sales has been a great asset. There are so many people who will count you out. Don’t be one of those people. Prove them wrong. I can confidently say that the challenges have made me that much more resilient and confident in my product.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Chelle’s Cutie Pies – what should we know?
Chelle’s Cutie Pies is an innovator in the food industry. It is the first company to commercially market white sweet potato pies. Our pies’ flavors are so reminiscent of the holiday time that our slogan is “Taste like Christmas.” The white sweet potato is still a novelty to the United States. However, the Latin and Caribbean community are very familiar with it and  “boniato” is the colloquial term used in Miami. In Japan it is known as the Muraski potato. It is robust red on the outside and  white on the inside. When cooked it can be compared to a roasted chestnut and it has a spoonable cheesecake like texture. We are proud to be 100% vegan and gluten-free. We cater to vegans and non-vegans as well as diabetics and customers that suffer from celiac disease and gluten-free allergies. All our ingredients are locally sourced and we do not use any additives or preservatives. We have our own niche as we don’t currently have another competitor in the white sweet potato pie market. Many are not familiar with the white sweet potato so I find pleasure in educating them on it. I truly enjoy seeing the delight on their face when they experience the pie for the first time. “We believe in making comfort food that is good for the body and the soul.” Michelle Collins, Founder and Owner aka “Pie Girl Chelle”.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Executive Chef D Colbert who gave me the opportunity to work in his commercial kitchen. He gave me so much advice and encouragement along the way and continues to do so today. From recipe revision to local contacts. His support has been incredible.

Jason Troncale, General Manager at the Hotel Indigo Austin and Holiday Inn Express – he offered to carry my pies at the Hotel Indigo Downtown property. He gave me an opportunity to get my pies out in the Austin community.

Iman Edwards – one of my dear friends who has been very supportive from the beginning. She assisted me with my Social Media management and has shown me many ways to operate my business efficiency.

David Sayre – one of my dear friends. Dave tasted my very first white sweet potato casserole. He has supported me from the very beginning. Not only has he been a customer who promotes my items regularly on social media, he was instrumental in assisting me with my very first debut at the Coconut Grove Organic Farmer’s Market.

George Collins – My grandfather, who was my very first customer for my diabetic friendly pie “Sweet Serenity.” Through him, I received customer referrals. His sage advice throughout the process has been invaluable. He supported my idea from the beginning.

Beth Wilson Parentice – She has been a mentor to me in the beginning stages of the business. She is a successful entrepreneur who introduced me to the key points in the wholesale distribution process. She also was a source of support to understanding the importance of establishing boundaries in business.

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