top of page

Callie's Hot Little Biscuit

Charleston, South Carolina

<< Back to Project

Interview with Callie's Hot Little BiscuitMeena Khalili
00:00 / 18:56

Interview recorded:
September 28, 2021

Carrie Morey, Owner

​Wake up as a problem solver.

 

Meena

Callie's hot little biscuit has a national reputation, maybe international, even with with all of the accolades by such big names, you have a strong product line. It's available in by mail and. In food markets, uh, there's a food truck. There's catering, there's a television show on PBS. All of these factors actually make this interview today very unique to this project. Some of the folks that I'm interviewing aren't nearly that wide cast, so I want to ask you with all that understood, I want to ask you, was there a specific set of moments or experiences for you? That helped you see yourself as a small business owner.

Carrie

Oh definitely because I actually had another interview earlier this morning and she said, you know, I feel like entrepreneurs are just born entrepreneurs and to be perfectly honest, I think everybody's entrepreneurial journey is different. And I never looked at myself as an entrepreneur. I had a priority of being a stay-at-home Mom, but also a passion that really drove me to want to create something within my passion which was working with food and so I put those two together and said how can I do both which I think is a big I don't want to say issue, but definitely a hard thing that women specifically have to deal with is having that balance and trying to be able to be successful at both. And for a long time, I think women, you know, were of the school of thought that you could only pick one or the other. So I just dreamt about how can I make both of these things become a reality.

​The entrepreneur grit.

 

When you combine entrepreneurship with your passion, you're going to be successful always. And then for me, I think the key to success was having that guided light, that force of my priority as my grounding space. To say, OK, where do I go next? How do I do this? How do I continue? To build, but also keep my priority of my family as first, right? So there are a lot of times that I had to forego opportunities because it didn't fit with my family, which was my priority. But I never missed out on my family if I look back on it 16 years strong now!

I get a lot of times people say to me, well, why? Why is it taking you so long to grow? And I say, well, I've been growing my family, which was my priority. And you know, for me, looking back on it, I think it couldn't have written it to work out better because I have been able to do everything that I've wanted to do and the timing of it has been great because I still go home every day at 3:00 and I make dinner for my family and I don't miss volleyball games. And when they were young. I worked 2 hours a day when they were in preschool and that was it, and that was OK for me, you know, and I think that a lot of people don't understand being an entrepreneur—the greatest part about it is you get to write your own script, so you do you and I don't pretend to think that this is the life that anybody else wants to leave, but it's my authentic journey. And I feel as if when you are on your own path and you choose authenticity and you know your priority and you know your passion, then those are winning combinations that you can conquer anything.

When you're an entrepreneur that journey is really loney—but the whole world was going through it.​

There's no right or wrong way to do anything and so I love that you say, oh, you know, “you're a much bigger business” than a lot of the other businesses that you're speaking to today. But I feel like we're just getting started, right? It I feel like we're in the young teenage years and we've got a long way to go. So I'm super excited about the future.

Meena

What are some of the places that your career has taken you and how did you come to Callie's Hot Little Biscuit?

Carrie

Well, the irony and the whole story of my journey is that when I started thinking about. How do I have a business and food but stay at home and obviously the reason that this was such a struggle for me was because I grew up with my mom being a caterer and working in restaurants, knowing that life is so hard and it's not conducive to raising a family. You're gone every weekend. You're, you know, in the restaurant till 2:00 in the morning. And I knew that I didn't want that. Right?

So I said, well, I'm going to start a a food business, but I'm going to make it a mail order. Internet only business. In 2005, nobody was buying anything over the Internet, much less gourmet southern biscuits. So it was a slow start, but that was great because I was three babies like within 3 1/2 years. So I did what I did when they were either in preschool or napping, and so it was great. And I can remember at the time thinking “Ohh, I need to do more. I need to grow! It needs to go faster!” But timing is everything and so now that I'm a little bit older, I've realized that you know when you're trying so hard to go in one direction and it's just not working it's a great thing to take a step back and go. Maybe I'm not ready for that. Somebody's trying to tell me something, so keep going. But recognize timing is everything and just because your pace might want to go a certain way, you might not be ready for that for whatever reason.

I started a food business that was conducive to my lifestyle, and now 16 years later, I actually have a restaurant.

 

It felt like we were all in this together.

We have 4 restaurants and I'm able to do everything that I originally wanted to do on my terms. The restaurants closed every day at 2:00 o'clock because my kids got out of school at 3:00 and I want to be picking them up, you know? So there were certain pillars of these are non-negotiables for me. I want to be able to be at home with my kids every afternoon. I want to create a business that's in food. I've done all those things and I think sitting down and writing. Why are you doing it? For whom are you doing it? What are you doing? Those are questions that you need to ask as a beginning entrepreneur and are you passionate about it? Because the passion is what will get you through the really hard times.

Meena

Right. So, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia. How many people do you have working in your business?

Carrie

Right now, we're right about 70, but we could use about 80. We are like the rest of the country, very short staffed and running then. But we're making it happen and we are trying to hire everyday. You know, it's hard to grow when you don't have the manpower. So we actually have done an incredible job of growing this year, especially after 2020 was so hard and it's amazing what you see, what you can do with little staff when you have no other choice so. It's been really eye opening to see we were pretty bulky and to become super lean and know that, OK, we don't need to be this lean. We need to be somewhere in the middle has been a great.

Meena

I think that makes a really good segue into taking us back to March 2020. Schools and businesses started to shut down, or even maybe you as a parent. I know for me, I was asking my kids teachers are we going to come back here? Hospitals were overrun back then. What were your initial thoughts and your greatest immediate concerns for Callie's Hot Little Biscuit?

Carrie

I remember first thinking, Oh my God, I'm going to have to lay off over half of my company. What are what are we going to? How can we help these people. That was my biggest concern.

 

Okay. We're going to shut down for three weeks.

The second biggest concern was preserving cash. Like what can we shut down? We got to stop the bleeding because we did not know what tomorrow was going to bring in and in hindsight, I can remember thinking, “OK, we're going to shut down for 3 weeks.” And we are still in a version of being shut down. So, you know, we knew nothing about what this pandemic was going to bring us, but I feel as if being a small business owner, being an entrepreneur, our day-to-day before COVID is filled with problems, struggles, puzzle pieces to fit into. It's just that there's constant ups and downs. So, for me COVID was just a really big one of those.

You know, we say in our company, "Wake up expecting problems because if you wake up as a problem solver and you say, OK, I know I'm going to solve the problems today, whatever they are like, where are they? Bring them to me. I'm ready.” Your perspective is so much different than waking up, going everything's great and there's going to be no problems today. So if you wake up going OK, what's today's problem going to be then you're more prepared for that way of living.

And so, that's the entrepreneur grit and you must also be able to train your team to be able to do that. Because most people like to, you know, come in, smooth sailing and get out the door. I don't think Calley's is like that. Everybody here would tell you, oh, God, what? What is it going to be today? And I think when you have that mentality you almost thrive on that, so I knew that our team would get through it and I can remember getting on a call saying I need everybody to put on their scrappy hat. We have got to get real scrappy. We have no idea what we're going to do, how we're going to sell. We were rebranding. We were launching things in the middle of it, shooting a TV show. And I said, how are we going to sell the biscuits? I want everybody to think of a new way to sell biscuits. We got to think of it and everybody came to the table with unbelievable ideas! It's really to me it was about how we are going to put a positive spin on this. You know, let's keep everybody safe. Let's try to help as many people as we can. Don't spend any money and let's try to get through one day at a time.

 

​Let's try to help as many people as we can.

Meena

So did you find yourselves using the internet and social media in new ways?

Carrie

Oh, my God. I mean, I started making biscuits online. I started talking to my phone, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I started doing biscuit classes. I started journaling on the phone. I just, it's just so strange to me. I have three teenage daughters, so I'm constantly saying get off your phone! And then here I am staring at my phone talking to people. And I thought I am a hypocrite! But you know, I mean, we did everything—every idea that came across. Just trying to keep it lively and talk positive and OK, we're all going through this.

I think that was the one thing about being in the thick of it was for whatever reason it felt OK because everybody was going through it. When you're an entrepreneur, you're used to being alone. Trying to figure out the problems in that in that journey is really lonely. The whole country, the whole world was going through it. So I felt like we're all in this together. Let's just try to get through it.

Meena

Did the folks that work for you or the business begin to work remotely?

Carrie

We basically said everybody that doesn't have to be in the office, you must go home because we wanted to keep everybody safe. We had 15 bakers that we needed to continue baking if they didn't bake, we didn't have anything to sell, so we masked them. We temperature check them. We kept everybody as far away as possible and we said everybody else has to work from home.

Zoom became daily conference calls. You know that's hard for a group that's used to being together. That was hard on our team because, you know, we're also separated. But you know, we got through it.

Meena

You mentioned that you are still within some version of being shut down. I think is what you said, but you're not completely shut down. So can you talk a little bit about that transition from working remotely, being hard on your team? And now to this new version of what this looks like for you?

 

​It was a lot to keep up with the day to day changing of everything.

Carrie

Yeah, well, we're not shut down in the sense of shut down because of COVID or shut down because we have employee shortages, which I would attribute somewhat to COVID. We have some people who are masked, some people are not. Atlanta has a mask mandate. Charlotte doesn't. Charleston doesn't. But we make sure that our team and the public know if they’re saying if you haven't been vaccinated, you must be masked. So it's a lot to keep up with and the day-to-day changing of everything. But you know the number one goal is to keep everybody safe. If somebody needs to work from home because they're not feeling well or a child is sick, then you stay home. We’ve got to keep everybody safe and that's the number one goal.

Meena

I'm wondering what the hardest decisions might have been for or for your business based on the effects of COVID, and conversely, what the easiest decisions might have been?

Carrie

Well, I think immediately when it first started, the hardest decision was laying people off. That was hard. I've never had to do anything like that before and to lay them off in a manner that you know, there was a sense of urgency because we knew we had been advised from our accounting, our outside accountant that there's going to be a massive influx of everybody applying for unemployment. The sooner you lay these people off and you help them apply. The better they're going to be. So we did everything we could to give some sort of a financial stipend and lay them off and we laid them off over a conference call. I mean, it was the most un-Callie's-like thing to do, but we were doing it because we wanted them to be able to immediately apply and not get back logged in the system. So that was difficult because it seemed impersonal and awful.

And, you know, we said three weeks, but we had no idea that it would go on as long as it did so. So that was tough and you know, but it was a no brainer because we couldn't just bleed our bank accounts dry. We kept from all of our stores—four stores, which was 50 people—we kept four and said it was a temporary layoff and we'd be hiring as soon as we reopened, but we never we did open fully until like August. I mean, we did to-go, but we didn't let people back in the store until late summer last year. So you know, we would go from running a shift of seven people in a work day to two. So and one of those was a salaried manager that was the head of the store. It was just very different and you know, kind of sad, but everybody was going through it and I think that was what was the saving grace.

The food truck really helped. There were people that wanted to work just because they wanted to!

And then to answer your second question, the easiest decision. I don't know. Amy, what do you think the easiest decision was to make? I mean, for me, I'm a quick decision maker. Well, the food truck really helped us because while we closed all the bake shops we were in, there were people that wanted to work just because they wanted to! And so we went around and we mobilized. Went and visited neighborhoods and it kind of brought a little ray of sunshine to everybody. And so we were able to raise money for our laid off employees and, you know, bring a little bit of joy to neighborhoods in the community.

Meena

Can you speak a little bit more about raising money for your laid-off employees?

Carrie

So in the beginning when we had all this stock of biscuits. We were like “It's going to go bad, so we might as well give it away!” We had two or three employees that would work on the food truck and would just bake things, go through neighborhoods and hand out. And we didn't take money for it. We said, “You can make a donation to our employees fund.” We would divvy up the money and pass it out. So, you know, we just we were just trying to not let product go to waste, give people a purpose and then give them a little bit of a paycheck.

Meena

Are you hopeful about the future? Of your business and what is next for you?

Carrie

Oh my gosh. I'm so hopeful, but I'm a hopeful person. I wake up with eternal hope and positivity, and that's just how I live my life, so I don't have any doubt that we will continue to grow and thrive. It may be a little bit slower than other companies, but you know I'm 100% female owned individual business owner with no venture capital money backing me, so we're going to grow as fast as we grow and I'm excited for the future because mainly because I love surprises and that's the creative in me of what's next and that's not something that I can manufacture: It's got to be authentic. So this comes to me and this is what we do next and that's just over soul searching and dreaming and actually taking time away to go experience other things. Things that really let your mind wander and drift. And for me, that's how I create. Some of my best ideas come from when I'm sitting in Oaxaca, Mexico, having a Margarita, thinking about not biscuits! So you have to take a step away sometimes from your business in order to be creative and figure out what is next.

​Some of my best ideas come from when I'm not thinking about biscuits.

Meena

I just want to thank you again so much for your generosity and for being a part of this project.

Carrie

Absolutely. Thank you.

Meena

Thank you. OK, can't wait to meet you one day!

Carrie

Oh, absolutely. It'll happen!

bottom of page