Erica Barrett, Founder and CEO of Southern Culture Artisan Foods

Erica Barrett
Erica Barrett (Photo by Erik Umphery)

Alumni Spotlight: International Culinary Center

Erica Barrett is the Founder and CEO of Southern Culture Artisan Foods, a breakfast lifestyle brand she started after visiting the grocery store and seeing that there was a lack of quality breakfast products on the shelf.

Erica Barrett is most notably known for appearing on the Emmy Award Winning Show “ABC’s Shark Tank” where she went head to head with the Sharks and received two offers; one from Kevin O’Leary and one from Barbara Corcoran and ultimately landed a deal with Barbara Corcoran on the show. Erica’s approach to food is to always create the best version of what you love.

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Southern Culture, Erica’s Breakfast lifestyle brand is a salute to breakfast and her strong Southern roots. Erica built her business from the ground up with an idea, tremendous faith and a will to succeed. Her products can now be purchased in 4,000 retailers across the U.S. and in three countries internationally. Erica’s passion for food and desire to build a food empire has inspired Erica to launch her own YouTube Channel and Branded Restaurant Concept.

A native of Mobile, AL Erica is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University with a BA in Business Finance but was inspired to follow her dream to cook professionally after becoming the grand prizewinner of a video recipe contest with and Lea and Perrins. She is a graduate of the International Culinary Center® (formerly the French Culinary Institute) Culinary Entrepreneurship program.

When was the moment you knew that the food industry was where you wanted to be?

In 2010, I entered a recipe contest with Food Network and Lea and Perrins. It was my first formal culinary challenge. I won $10,000 and a Grand Prize Trip to New York. That trip changed my life and was validation that I should be in the food industry versus my career in Corporate America.

What brought you to the Culinary Entrepreneurship (CE) Program at the International Culinary Center®? 

I wanted to go to Culinary School and wanted to get my education at the best school in the U.S. I did lots of research online and another trip to New York brought me to ICC®. After touring with my husband, I knew it was the place for me.

What was the most critical piece of information you learned while at ICC®?

The most critical piece of information that I learned at ICC® is that success in the food industry requires preparation, systems, resources and great connections. I received all four things in the Culinary Entrepreneurship Program.

What has the response been like for Southern Culture Foods?

a. Pre-ICC CE to Post ICC CE? The response for Southern Culture has been great since early beginnings. I have been blessed to have great press and great retailers that are excited about carrying my line of products. Since I left the ICC® CE Program, my business has really amplified. I get calls from editors every week wanting to feature my product and buyers wanting to purchase it. I am humbled.

b. Post Shark Tank? My business absolutely exploded after Shark Tank, we went from $150,000 in sales to $500,000 in sales in 12 months. Shark Tank opened up so many doors for me and I now call it the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a wonderful show. 

Could you tell our readers a little bit about what you got of the ICC® CE program? 

I truly gained confidence that I can start any food business and be highly successful with all of my concepts.  I now have valuable resources to grow my current and new food business ventures.

At what point were you able to get SCF into major retailers like Amazon and Target? 

I sold to Amazon immediately and Target took 2 years of selling to land the deal.

Erica Barrett
Erica Barrett (Photo by Erik Umphery)

Did it surprise you when you discovered that not only would you need to sell to restaurateurs but distributors as well? 

I worked with a consultant prior to opening my business. I was prepared for distributors picking up my products, but when chefs say I want to use your products versus making their own from scratch, it makes you excited.

So what does the future look for Southern Culture Foods and for you?

Southern Culture has been a great launching pad for me. I am working on a restaurant concept in Harlem. I launched a catering business in Atlanta and will be rolling out Southern Culture Catering New York in October. I am super excited about catering and offering amazing food to people on a daily basis.