Michelle MacDonald was working in human resources when her grandfather was diagnosed with celiac disease, forcing him to cut out foods with gluten.
MacDonald, a lifelong baker, took it upon herself to craft a bagel — the food her grandfather missed the most — he could eat.
It took her 15 tries over the course of two months until her grandfather, who tried each concoction, OKed one of her creations. In Sept. 2012, she went wholesale with the bagels, dubbing the production Sweet Note.
In the early going, the now 28-year-old worked solo — with an occasional helping hand from friends and family — to make, sell and deliver the bagels out of her Kintnersville, Pa. base.
In spring of last year, she met Brittany Nettles — a college sophomore and healthy living blogger — through a mutual friend, and the two "just clicked," said MacDonald.
Nineteen-year-old Nettles soon joined the Sweet Note team and now acts as the president of sales and marketing for the company while juggling her full-time coursework at Arcadia University.
Moving to Manayunk
The company began growing quickly and gained over 50 clients in the second half of 2013. A search for a more central location and additional space recently landed the duo on Krams Street in Manayunk.
Currently, Nettles and MacDonald bake two days a week to fulfill orders totalling over 4,000 bagels a week. The rest of the week, they make deliveries, go on sales calls and meet with new clients.
"My car is my floating office," said Nettles.
"People think I am crazy, honestly, but I believe if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life," she added of her busy schedule. "Plus, it's taught me time-management."
The team has gotten requests for gluten-free scones, buns and not surprisingly in this town, soft pretzels. While they've experimented here and there with expanding the food line, the only plan for product growth is bagel chips right now.
"We want to stick with one thing and do it really well," said MacDonald, adding that in the wholesale business, where profit margins tend to be smaller, it's especially important to be efficient with time and resources.
Sweet Note is expanding their team, however, and hopes to employ bakers to handle the majority of the bagel-making beginning this month, so MacDonald and Nettles can focus on growing the client base.
Where to find them
Sweet Note currently works with clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia, hand-delivering anything within an hour's drive and overnight shipping the rest.
In Philadelphia, the bagels can be found at The Foodery on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, Green Line Cafe in West Philly and Center City, the Schmear It food truck and South Street Philly Bagels in Queen Village, among other locations.