Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit was born 15 years ago when owner Carrie Morey knew her mother Callie’s homemade biscuit recipe had to be shared outside of the walls of her cozy childhood kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina.
She first launched a mail-order business with the signature country ham biscuit and has since grown to four eateries, a complete line of biscuit sandwiches and accoutrements, a vintage food truck named Butter, and now a growing social media empire. The famous biscuits have been featured on The Today Show, Food Network, and The Martha Stewart Show and in dozens of publications including Oprah Magazine, touting the rich and buttery treats for adding “a dollop of decadence to breakfast or a late-night snack break.”
We caught up with Carrie to talk about these delicious little morsels—all handmade with no machinery—and her journey through this rollercoaster of a pandemic. She shares what it’s like to step outside of her comfort zone with live cooking demos, how she communicates with her remote staff, and why she needed to set “kitchen hours” for her oven-obsessed daughters.
2020 brings a celebration of your 15th year in business. How has your experience in this industry helped carry Callie’s through these challenging times?
Authentically speaking, the only thing I did was follow my heart. I created a business where I could have the lifestyle that I wanted—which was to be a mom first and have a career in food. I wanted to have a business that I could, in theory, run out of my house and work in my pajamas with my kids crawling around. That is what led me to starting an online mail-order biscuit business in 2005—and in 2005, nobody was buying biscuits on the internet. I suffered for many years with little to no sales because it just wasn’t a thing.
Since then, it’s certainly grown so much more than that. But when you follow your heart, and you think—it’s not about starting a business to grow to be a multimillion-dollar company—it’s about starting a business because you are passionate, you want to have a certain lifestyle, and you are willing to wait and just let it happen. Many people are like, “more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger.” We’re all in this rat race.
How do you think the pandemic has affected that common mentality?
I think somebody in the higher powers—whoever you believe in—might be sending us all a message that maybe it’s time for us to just slow down a little bit and take stock of what’s most important. Why does it have to be bigger, bigger, bigger, faster, faster, faster? It’s given a lot of people—including myself—time to just take a step back and ask, “Am I enjoying my life? Do I have to live at this fast pace, or can I set my own?” For me personally, the silver lining of this whole thing has been revisiting those questions. There is a lot to navigate right now, and I’m just doing my best to appreciate where I am. I will look back on this period and be grateful in some ways. I’ll be thankful because I stopped, I listened, and I learned from it—and I will continue to learn from this period.
Over the last decade and a half, Callie’s has grown quite the following. How have you been communicating with your customers?
We are doing email marketing. We are testing with texting. Instagram Live is our newest addition. I had been fighting the requests from my marketing director Tarah to do it for about a year. I kept saying, who in the world wants to see me cook? It just is not something that I felt comfortable doing. And before, I could always say, oh I don’t have time to do that. I’m so busy. But now they know I’m not busy because I’m at home! And so she kept pushing me, and so I did it.
Then I thought just four or five people were going to show up. Nobody wants to see this. But everybody has really seemed to really love it. Whenever you push yourself to step out of your comfort zone and you conquer a fear, it’s always a good thing.
Are you used to being in front of the camera for Instagram Live yet?
If somebody asked, what is the one of the things you’d like to give up, I would say that would be one of them (laughs). But I am going to keep doing it. And actually, I’ve committed to doing one recipe a week, even after this is over with.
I also spend a lot of time on social media channels just telling people—this is what we’re going through, showing how we handled something this week, and this is what we’re doing now. I just think there’s something about being open, about your flaws and your fears, because everybody’s going through it. There’s something comforting about that. Everybody’s in the same boat. We’re going to get through this if we’re together.
And the support has followed. Our newsletter engagement is up so much on our website. Our website orders are up. People are buying for friends and family to let them know that they’re thinking of them. They just want to do something to help us.
How have you responded to the outpouring of support?
We are sending as many handwritten thank you notes to our customers as possible. After 15 years in business, they are still supporting us and are so loyal, so that’s the least we can do. In fact, I always put my business card in with the thank you note because our business cards have a special discount code on them, and it has my phone number on it too. And one day I get a call. “This is William from DC. I just got your lovely thank you note. I just want to say thank you so much. I love when people write notes. It was so thoughtful.”And then he says: “But what I’m really concerned about is, I really need to make a big order for that pimento cheese. Because I mean, I just can’t keep it in my refrigerator. I need to buy like six or seven tubs. Can you help me?” So those are the things that make you feel good at the end of the day.
What else has helped with business operations and communication?
Our app has really come into play, which we’ve always had, but now with no-contact pickup, we had to figure out a way to handle preorders. The first couple of times that we opened the doors or took our food truck out, people heard that we were coming and they were like mobbing us. So with the food truck, we use the app to take orders ahead of time. We post where the food truck is going to be each week and at what time. Customers preorder, then come, say their name, we hand it over, and off they go. There’s no exchange of money. There’s no lingering. There’s no line. Also on the backend, it helps with our costs because we’re super efficient. We know exactly what we’re going into for the day. That was a welcome surprise as we figured out how to feed the people but also ensure we were staying safe.
What products are your most popular, and what new items have come about during these times?
Buttermilk is definitely the most popular and really always has been from an ordering side on our website and through grocery store buys. The cinnamon has also always been popular in our Hot Little Biscuit bake shops. So we’re definitely seeing those trends continue. We’re also doing shortcake kits for kids—basically a do-it-yourself situation where we provide the icing and the sprinkles, and they decorate it.
It’s also funny because when we were coming up with recipes to do on Instagram Live, we thought—everybody’s sick of biscuits. Let’s do something else. So we did a zucchini salad, which I love because that’s the way I love to eat on the regular. And I think it was the lowest engagement. I’m like, these people just want to eat biscuits and that’s it. We gotta go back to good ole comfort food. So we went back to biscuits and oatmeal cream pies and fried green tomatoes. So you have to know your audience.
How has it been seeing the community pitch in to support our essential workers?
It is amazing. I delivered 150 lunches to the VA hospital, and this was all funded by a group of moms. They got together and said, “Okay, what can we do? We don’t have anything to offer the medical community except for money. They need to eat. So we’re going to organize meals for them.” They call it Feeding our Heroes. They say, “We’re going to take care of your food, you don’t have to worry about anything. Just tell us how many and when you want it delivered.” And they’re only working with local businesses, so they’re really helping times two.
You have three young daughters. How have they been involved?
It’s been great to get my children involved—they’re learning and they love it. I’ve been filming them and talking them through it. It’s been interesting because now we’re getting a whole new audience of people who are getting their children involved. And I’m like, this is what you should have been doing all along. Get your kids in the kitchen and put them to work! You got to get them to do some work for ya. Although now I’m having a tough time getting my girls out of the kitchen. I’m like, okay, we gotta reel it back in. We have kitchen hours for sure.
How have you been handling your staff communication?
Well, I didn’t even know that Zoom existed before, and now it’s my best friend. We have Zoom coffees, Zoom lunches, Zoom cocktail hours, and everything in between. I’ve always sent out a Monday Morning Motivation email to my staff for at least the last five or six years with a message about what’s going on in our lives, upcoming events, etc. So we’ve continued doing that to keep everyone updated. I’ve asked all of my department heads to be in constant contact with all of their staff that they don’t see now since all of our non-essential staff are working from home.
What are your top three priorities now?
Without a doubt, protecting my people. And by my people, I mean my staff, my family, and our customers. That’s our number one concern—to make sure everybody’s protected. Purpose has also become a word that we talk about a lot in our team brainstorming sessions. It is so important that our team members have a sense of purpose when their roles and lives have been turned upside down. I’ve had some staff members say that having a purpose right now is what they need more than anything. It’s what is grounding them. So I would say protection number one, purpose number two, and then paycheck of course, because we want to make sure everybody has the things that they need.
You also were planning a rebrand when the pandemic hit. How was that affected?
I felt so bad for my marketing director Tarah because she had been planning this for a year. And for a marketing director, it’s a milestone in your career to be able to rebrand a company. Our PR and marketing teams had been working for months on a plan that centered around joy and celebration—working with media and influencers that had been supportive of Callie’s over the years. And all that went right out the window right before the launch in March. But I said, we don’t have a choice. We’re gonna do it. We just have to trust, and we had no idea what to expect.
And honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be launched any other way. Because I think in all the grim—to have this bright, cheery, colorful message come across—it was really refreshing for people. Plus I think more people than before were watching because everybody was at home on social media. So we probably really benefited from that.
We collaborated to create a Yelp collection of some of your favorite businesses. What made you choose these businesses?
These are people that I rely on outside of COVID-19. So not only do I support their businesses, not only do we collaborate, but we are also there for one another as female business owners. So these are people that I lean on, in more than one way, all the time. So it’s super important for me to help them, and I think they feel the same way about me. It’s my own little tribe of people that I trust, love, and support.