The White House kicked off its Made in America Week on Monday with a showcase of locally-made products from each state.
There were well-known brands like Campbell’s Soup from New Jersey and Gibson Guitars from Tennessee.
And right there along with those bigger names was Cider Bellies Doughnuts. The Meredith-based company was chosen to represent the Granite State at the event.
Cider Bellies owner Jessica Stephens makes the doughnuts with her husband Rob. She spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition about their experience traveling to Washington, D.C.
Can you tell us a little bit about your business Cider Bellies?
We opened our business about six years ago at Moulton Farm in Meredith. We do strictly cider donuts. We have the traditional plain and cinnamon sugar, and then we try to mix it up a little bit with new toppings. Since then we’ve grown pretty quickly. We have two other locations: one on the I-93 northbound Hooksett welcome center, and also in Center Harbor, where we teamed up with a BBQ company - Bellies and Butts BBQ - to open a storefront there as well.
How did this whole Made in America thing come about?
We just received a phone call from Jeanie Forrester on Friday just giving us a heads up that the White House might be calling us and to make sure we answer the phone. When the White House called, they just said they have an event and they would love us to participate in it if we could, and let us know that it was Monday. So we just kind of jumped at the opportunity.
So you only had the weekend to get down there?
Right. We were notified Friday and we were there, and drove our car down right away so we could be there for Monday morning.
You got to the White House on Monday. Can you talk about that experience?
It’s incredibly humbling. This is a place where Americans go to visit all the time, so walking in and being able to go places regular citizens can’t go. We were cooking our doughnuts in the White House kitchen. It was absolutely incredible. It was an amazing experience.
So you actually got to use the White House kitchen?
Yes. We brought our doughnut machine that we have in Meredith right down in the car with us and brought it right into the White House kitchen and cooked doughnuts fresh for the cabinet members and the administration.
Because that’s your business, making them fresh for customers. Did they expect you to do that?
No, actually they expected us to just bring down some pre-made doughnuts and we sort of insisted that if you’re going to try our doughnuts, they have to be hot and fresh. We asked them if we could bring our doughnut machine with us so that they could have the doughnuts the way we serve them to our customers. They said yes, that would be fine. They accommodated us amazingly.
How did it go over?
It was great. Everyone loved the doughnuts. We were getting some really great praise from everyone who tried them. It was amazing.
Of course any trip to the White House can get political. Did you have any reservations about taking part?
Not so much. I have a passion for politics. I love politics. There’s always that concern about what kind of backlash you’re going to get. But for this particular event, I really had to take a step back and understand that this was a bipartisan event. There were both Republicans and Democrats there. They’re celebrating businesses. They’re celebrating people who are bringing jobs to America and helping the American economy grow. There’s not a whole lot people can be angry about with that type of event. And you just hope people understand businesses small and large can contribute to the greater good of the country. It doesn’t really matter what your political affiliation is, we’re all in this together. We all need to make it work.
What’s been the reaction from customers?
Everyone has been incredibly supportive. We live in a small town and they know how much heart and soul I’ve put into the business. A lot of people have been saying it’s well deserved and congratulating me. The support I’ve been getting has been incredible. Everyone is just really happy for us.
The premise of this event was to promote American-made products, so as a small business owner, what are your biggest challenges?
Especially in New Hampshire, we have a very low unemployment rate, so it’s incredibly difficult for us to find staffing for our business, especially as it grows. When we opened our third location this year, it was a challenge to find people to work there. So that’s always an issue. I love my staff. They’re like family to me. Another issue is making sure they’re being provided for and they can provide for their family. So health care, minimum wage issues are always issues for a small business owner. And making goods and products that are here in the United States is important, as well as making them cheaply so we can actually make money at what we’re doing. There are quite a few issues that touch the small business owner, as well as the large manufacturers.