Student Entrepreneurs Launch 'Gourmet Holery,' Hope to Partner with Copper Grill

A pair of Little Rock high-school students is in the process of launching the city's first "gourmet holery," and the students might be doing so in partnership with a prominent local restauranteur.

Sydney Brazil and Jase Burton, both 16 and sophomores at eStem High School, have created The Hole Thing, a donut-hole specialty business that makes homemade donut holes and other treats in the shape of donut holes.

Currently, they are working out the details of an arrangement that would see them making their "gourmet holes" -- donut holes, muffin holes, cookie holes, birthday cake holes -- in the kitchen of Mary Beth Ringgold's Copper Grill in downtown Little Rock.

Brazil and Burton are members of the Noble Impact student entrepreneurship program at eStem, and so far have filled orders from family and friends in their respective home kitchens. They plan to take their products to the Argenta Farmers Market and then expand to the Farmer's Market at the River Market. But to do so, they need access to a commercial kitchen.

Enter Ringgold. Brazil and Burton approached her about creating specialty holes to compliment the homemade ice cream at Copper Grill, located three blocks to the east of eStem on Third Street.

"I was so impressed by their pitch and enthusiasm to grow their project that I wanted to find a way to help them," Ringgold said. "Their present limitation is that the startup is taking place in their home kitchens. A commercial food service establishment would not be able to sell food products that are not prepared in a certified, Health Department-inspected kitchen. I feel like we have an area in our kitchen at the Copper Grill that might suit their needs."

The students would use the Copper Grill kitchen during after-school hours when the restaurant isn't as busy, and their products would appear on the Copper Grill menu. Plus, the restaurant would market the patries and encourage experimentation with different ingredients. Details of that arrangement are being worked out. 

"We are working through some scheduling and format issues," Ringgold said. "Hopefully, we can make this work for them. The plan would be for our team to revise a small, lightly used space in the prep area of our kitchen. Then, we would designate space for their products and ingredient inventory. They could use the prep area during our down time. As well, we have several ovens that are rarely used in the afternoons. Thus, they could do all their production and be out before our evening service gets really active." 

Eventually, the student entrepreneurs want to open their own storefront. In the meantime, with the Copper Grill deal pending, they've launched a website, are active on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and have printed business cards. 

"Once we get started, there are a lot of possibilities," Burton said. "We just need to find an approved kitchen, and we can get one at Copper Grill."

The pastries are made from scratch, and the business partners welcome suggestions for new products via social media. Future menu items could include sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit holes and cheesecake holes.

Brazil said the goal is to get into the Argenta Farmers Market on April 4 and sell 100 boxes of nine holes for $3.50 per box.

"We want this to be like a gourmet item, but we don't want to charge more than a box of Girl Scout cookies," she said. "We want to show that it's possible for high-school students to do this."

Youth entrepreneurship indeed has ridden a wave of momentum in Arkansas lately, and the Noble Impact program, in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service, has been a big part of that.

Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson took a team of eStem students to Startup Weekend Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville last fall, where the team created a started called PassionPull and won prizes including a 3-D printer. Next month, Noble Impact will bring the first-ever High School Startup Weekend to Little Rock.

Brazil and Burton have taken the concept for The Hole Thing from the car, where Brazil and her mom hatched the idea, to the classroom and now to the brink of the real-world marketplace. 

"Anyone can get fired up about their own ideas," Williamson said. "However, Sydney and Jase have put action behind their ideas and now have something to show for it. They are building something together, which is a great avenue for education."

Ringgold was sold as much on the students themselves as she was on the gourmet holes. She said she had to keep reminding herself that these were sophomores in high school.

"Sydney and Jase are exceptional young people," she said. "They are forward thinking, enthusiastic and well grounded. Plus, there are so energized, not just by the concept of their endeavor but in all the components that will be required to make a project like this take off. They have already developed an initial marketing strategy including a logo, website and business cards. And they have a developed social media approach that really seems to be working for them. They instantly connect with people who have interest in their product and progress."

Brazil and Burton hope their gourmet treats connect as well.