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Ogden pie maker seeking jump from farmers markets to big time

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 2, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

James Edwards, owner of James Gourmet, and Laura Hnat, head baker for the operation, prepare to make sweet potato pies, the company's specialty, on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, at the Ogden bakery where Edwards rents space.

OGDEN — James Edwards’ pie-making career started with his U.S. Air Force buddies at Hill Air Force Base.

The positive feedback for his sweet potato pies got him thinking. “I thought, ‘I better make this a business,'” he said. So in 2018, his full-time career in the U.S. Air Force winding down, he got a business license and took his pies on the road, traveling to farmers markets around Utah, including at Farmers Market Ogden.

Sales steadily increased, prodding him to seek out larger and larger baking facilities and prompting him to consider how he could keep that growth going. “I always wanted to get my pies out nationwide,” said Edwards, now operating out of an Ogden baking facility.

He secured a spot on The Profit, the CNBC reality show hosted by Marcus Lemonis that’s meant to jump-start small or struggling businesses looking for a break. And now — three-plus years after he started — he hopes he’s on the verge of breaking his business, James Gourmet, into the big time.

The episode featuring Edwards aired Tuesday. But the machinations to expand have been in the works as he’s mentored under Lemonis during filming for the program and he’s chomping at the bit.

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

One of the sweet potato pies made by James Edwards' firm, James Gourmet, photographed Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Ogden.

“If God wills it, we’ll go from only a small part of the factory to the whole factory,” Edwards said. He’s using a portion of the Aspen Mills Bread Company plant in Ogden — his fourth location as he’s sought out larger facilities to keep pace with growing demand — but dreams of more.

“We just want to get out the best pies that we can,” he said. His full-time stint in the Air Force ended in 2020 after 14 years and pies are his professional focus now.

AMBITIONS AREN’T WAVERING

Edwards, who learned pie making while growing up from his grandmother and stepmother, is hardly the first entrepreneur to dream of making it big. But his appearance on The Profit — he had to audition for the role — offers a window into some of the sweat, heartbreak, joy and frustration that accompanies the process.

Edwards held a viewing party attended by about 100 friends at The Monarch in Ogden for the airing of the program Tuesday. At times the criticism from Lemonis, chairman and chief executive officer of Camping World, a recreational vehicle dealer, was fierce.

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

James Edwards, on right in black shirt, at a viewing party of "The Profit" on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, at The Monarch in Ogden. Edwards' efforts to expand his business, James Gourmet, were the focus of the episode.

“He’s always looking for the short-cut to the million-dollar deal,” Lemonis said during the episode. The pie-maker doesn’t follow through when he would make suggestions, Lemonis charged.

As with many programs, though, the ending offered a resolution of sorts. Edwards completed a pastry program at a Park City culinary school, learned about another pie maker’s online operation and more and his trajectory was set.

Real reality isn’t always as tidy as TV reality, but Edwards, ever optimistic, is upbeat. He’s expanded his line of goods to buttermilk pie and sweet potato bread and is aiming to expand sales nationwide via his new website, http://jamesgourmet.com. As a military veteran, he’s also eyeing military bases as a potential market.

“The biggest dream is to get into all the military chow halls,” he said.

Lemonis revealed on Tuesday’s program that he had invested $50,000 in Edwards’ business. Moreover, Edwards has received a $100,000 line of credit over the next three years as part of his appearance on The Profit to aid with his expansion efforts.

Work remains — most immediately he’s trying to pin down the most economical way of shipping pies. But his ambitions aren’t wavering. “We want to continue to serve as many people as possible,” Edwards said.

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