In an unassuming industrial park in Timonium, a row of squat commercial offices labeled alphabetically hardly gives off the impression that anything creative or mouth-watering is being produced inside.
But that notion is quickly dispelled as, upon opening the door to office “G,” visitors are met by the scent of freshly baked granola.
Michele’s Granola, 1904 Greenspring Avenue, occupies a 10,500-square-foot office and manufacturing space where, each week, most of the 40-plus employees assist in making, from scratch, 20,000 pounds of granola in small batches.
Once packaged, it’s distributed to more than 800 stores and food service facilities in 34 states. The success of this fairly young company, launched informally in 2006 by 40-year-old Lutherville resident Michele Tsucalas, serves as an inspiring example to other local startup manufacturing businesses in the food and beverage industry. Tsucalas first sold her homemade granola at a farmers’ market in Montgomery County.
From air-popped popcorn to homemade caramels to vegan chocolate to craft beer and more, a number of products are being produced along the York Road corridor between Timonium and Hunt Valley — primarily by nascent business owners giving their career dreams a go.
Most of these entrepreneurs list personal convenience and proximity to a strong customer base as among the top reasons for choosing this stretch of the York Road corridor in Baltimore County to fulfill their business goals. Tsucalas also credits support from the county with helping her achieve success out of her current Timonium location.
Tsucalas said when she decided to move out of her former Timonium facility on Aylesbury Road that she’d outgrown, the first thing she did was call the county. A meeting with members of the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development informed Tsucalas about the Baltimore County Boost Fund. It’s a loan program of the Maryland Department of Commerce earmarked for small-, minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses that uses revenue from Maryland’s video lottery terminals.
Soon after, she applied for and secured a $250,000 loan from the program. The loan covered the construction cost of the Greenspring Drive facility, which formerly operated as a Baltimore County Public Schools office.
The Boost Fund, intended for startups and early-stage companies, requires applicants to have a sound business plan and meet certain credit criteria, said Kimberly Taylor, manager of small business development for the county’s Small Business Resource Center.
“It’s more flexible than a traditional bank loan, but it’s not easy [to acquire],” she said.
Since its inception in 2015, the Boost Fund has provided small businesses in Baltimore County and surrounding jurisdictions with 37 loans valued at a total of $4.3 million, according to Stan Jacobs, chief financial officer with Baltimore County’s Department of Economic Workforce and Development.
Without the Boost Fund loan, Tsucalas said, she wouldn’t have been able to fund her new facility. She also credits the county with assisting her in finding a new location.
Other startups in the industry point to informal connections as playing into their success. Such was the case for Robin Garrison, owner of gourmet popcorn company Popsations Popcorn Co., whose business and manufacturing and retail segments are operating out of 7 W. Aylesbury Road.
“I had no food manufacturing background,” said Garrison, who earned an MBA before embarking on a lifelong dream of opening a popcorn business in 2010. She admits that figuring out the licensing and production requirements and other elements needed to run a successful manufacturing business was eye-opening. “It required a lot of research, and a lot of asking questions,” she said of her company, which now includes five full-time employees and one part-timer.
Fortunately, Garrison didn’t have to look far to find neighbors she could learn from. Before Michele’s Granola moved, it was a direct neighbor of Popsations, as was local kombucha maker Mobtown Fermentation. It, too, outgrew its space on Aylesbury Road and announced in November 2018 it was moving to accommodate an expanding business.
Garrison also noted a friendly relationship with Mouth Party Caramel, a business that produces small-batch caramels from a handed-down family recipe in an 8,000-square-foot kitchen facility on Greenspring Drive. “We now have friends we can call on when we have a question. It’s been very beneficial,” Garrison said.
Following the lead
When 36-year-old Joshua Rosen was searching for a new location to grow Charm School Chocolate, his vegan chocolate business, the area’s growing reputation as a manufacturing hub factored into his decision. Rosen said he conducted an exhaustive, yearlong search before deciding on his new Hunt Valley location, close to York Road.
“It became very clear to me that there was a substantial foundation of good food businesses here,” said Rosen, who turned to fellow entrepreneur Tsucalas for advice when he was considering expansion.
In February, he opened the doors to his new 2,800-square-foot manufacturing and tasting facility at 10946 Beaver Dam Road in Hunt Valley. Previously, Rosen, a mechanical engineer-turned-chef and entrepreneur, made his chocolate bars out of an 800-square-foot space on Security Boulevard.
With his expansion, he’s now producing around 4,500 2.1-ounce chocolate bars each month. Rosen’s chocolate business opened in Hunt Valley soon after another entrepreneur’s manufacturing business launched just a half-mile away.
Another nearby food business is the Baltimore Coffee and Tea Co. Launched in 1992 by Stanley Constantine, Norman Loverde and John Kerney, it quickly outgrew its original location in Dulaney Valley Plaza. In 1994, the company moved to Aylesbury Road in Timonium, which remains its roasting headquarters.
Baltimore Coffee and Tea Co. has since expanded to seven stores. The only tea bag manufacturer in the state, the company produces about 35 million tea bags annually and roasts an estimated 30,000 pounds of coffee weekly — all in the Timonium location.
Constantine, the company’s president, is no stranger to the coffee business. His family started Eagle Coffee in downtown Baltimore about a century ago. Most of his uncles worked there and, after college, he also did for some time before going into advertising. A weak economy in 1991 led him, Loverde and Kerney to start their own coffee roaster business.
As for the location, Constantine says Aylesbury Road’s proximity to I-83, which provides easy access for incoming and outgoing shipments, sold them on it.
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Now, residents of this highly populated area need only to travel between Timonium and Hunt Valley to indulge their cravings for homemade treats.