Banana bread bonanza Banana bread bonanza

A love of food and all things homemade are what inspired two women from Sharon and Antrim to take the leap of faith and startup home-based businesses with online and local markets in the last two years. What they never imagined, though, is just how big their businesses would grow and that their products would be loved by their favorite Cooking Channel celebrities.

Today, Karen Wessling of Antrim is selling her banana bread of all varieties and Melissa Greenwood of Sharon is selling her handcrafted artisan soaps — which come in fun food shapes and scents — at Orchard Rose Boutique, a small shop in Sharon Springs, N.Y. The town’s Main Street is known for its historic places and for the mercantile owned by “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, who have a hit reality television show on the Cooking Channel and have been featured in major media outlets, including Rolling Stone, Vogue, USA Today and The Martha Stewart Show.

Wessling and Greenwood first met the Beekman Boys in June as vendors at the 4th Annual Garden Party Festival in Sharon Springs, where the women were the only two vendors from New Hampshire out of more than 100 artisans, crafters and farmers. The Beekman Boys were celebrating their grand opening of the flagship Beekman 1802 Mercantile on Main Street. And while there, Wessling and Greenwood took advantage of a new business opportunity to sell their products just a few stores away at the Orchard Rose Boutique, the former location of the Beekman Boy’s mercantile.

“I met Brent upon my arrival on [June 1] and gave him one of my banana breads in a jar that I created,” Wessling said, referring to the six ounce jar of banana bread that she bakes and then seals through a canning process similar to that used by jam makers. “[Brent] loved it and mentioned it on his Facebook page, which in turn created a line at my booth. I guess if Brent of the Beekman Boys says, ‘The banana bread was yummy,” it is gospel and all his followers want it, too.”

Wessling has been baking her banana bread for years, but it was just this past holiday season that her family encouraged her to sell the bread locally. She currently sells under the name Barnyard Banana Bread and has a booth alongside Greenwood — who sells her all natural, gluten-free soaps — at the Fresh Chicks Outdoor Market at Monadnock Community Hospital on Mondays.

Wessling said she is required to inform people through stickers on her products, and also in the information on her website, that her bread is made in a residential kitchen. She is not a mass producer of banana bread, so at this time she does not need a license. She bakes about 30 loaves of bread a week, and most of those are sold at local markets, where a license isn’t required. According to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, an unlicensed food preparer can’t exceed a maximum gross sales of $10,000.

When Greenwood told Wessling this spring that she had signed up to participate at the Garden Party Festival in New York, Wessling said she decided to take a chance and apply to be a vender, too. Her application was accepted and the rest, she said, is history.

“The weekend changed our lives,” Wessling said, explaining that sales for her banana bread — which is available in traditional, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and zucchini varieties — have tripled since she started selling the banana bread jars at the Orchard Rose Boutique in June.

For Greenwood, sales have doubled. In the spring and summer months, Greenwood makes about 200 to 300 pounds of soap in four and five ounce bars. Around the holidays, she said she tries to make 500 to 600 pounds of soap a month. Thanks to the help of family members and friends, Greenwood said she keeps up with the demand, but may need to hire a part-time employee in the near future.

Root beer floats and ice cream cones are just a selection of the food-shaped soaps people can purchase from Greenwood’s Pixie Pants Designs. A chef for many years at restaurants throughout New England, Greenwood said she loves challenging herself and finding a way to merge her two passions: cooking and soap making.

“I make over 30 varieties of soaps, lotions and lip balms,” she said. “And, of course, I had to throw the food thing into it. I make soap that smells like chocolate.”

Her soaps are for sensitive skin and are not harmful if accidentally consumed.

“They’re made of all natural ingredients, with a coconut oil base because it lathers so nicely,” Greenwood said.

Both Wessling and Greenwood said they’re both thankful for their experiences at the Fresh Chicks Market in Peterborough and for the opportunity to sell their products in Sharon Springs near the Beekman Boys. In addition to making regular trips to Sharon Springs to replenish their merchandise, the women plan to return to participate in the Harvest Festival there this September.

“Who knows what’s next for us,” Wessling said. “But what I do know is, we are both following our heart and our dream.”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.


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