From left to right: Nicole Lazar, James Reinart, Nana Kwamena Takyi-Micah (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

ACME’s first Buckeye’s Best contest gives Northeast Ohio food entrepreneurs a spot on store shelves

By Abbey Marshall

Photos by Abbey Marshall

Brian Reardon used to spend his fall Saturdays scooping his signature buffalo chicken dip onto his daughter’s friends’ plates at Ohio University football game tailgates. He had developed his gluten-free, all natural dip from an old slow cooker recipe until he found the perfect creamy and tangy blend.

He didn’t anticipate that in just a few years, he would be selling his product commercially. Now, his 5-0 Buffalo-style Chicken Dip sits on ACME Fresh Market store shelves.

The grand prize recipient was among two other first prize winners of ACME Fresh Market’s inaugural Buckeye’s Best contest, a competition among Ohio food and beverage entrepreneurs during ACME’s 130th anniversary celebration. The three winners not only have the opportunity to sell their products in ACME’s 16 markets across four counties in Northeast Ohio, but they also won prize money to help grow their business. 

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“Throughout the years, we’ve been partnering with local businesses in the community, and we just want to do more of it,” said ACME’s Vice President of Marketing Katie Swartz. “The quality of entrepreneurship in the food and beverage area in Ohio is amazing.”

There were more than 80 entries from food entrepreneurs across the state. The grand prize winner, 5-0 Buffalo-style Chicken Dip, won $5,000, and two first place winners, Health Junkie and Micah Specialty foods, were awarded $2,500.

5-0 Buffalo-style Chicken Dip, chicken cooked with Ghana Specialty Sauce and salad with elderberry syrup dressing. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

5-0’s founders are using their earnings to develop two new dips, chicken bacon ranch and southwestern veggie dip, with the hope of eventually making their brand nationally available. Reardon, a former police officer who named his brand as a nod to his career in law enforcement, runs the business with James Reinart, who manages Ganley Chevrolet of Aurora.

“We came in with the intention to win it, and that’s what we did,” Reinart said. “We’re putting that money back into our business and to get the word out, because once people try this dip, they’re usually hooked.”

First prize winner Nana Kwamena Takyi-Micah has been making his marinade, Ghana Specialty Sauce, for five years. He developed the recipe from his mother’s cooking growing up in Ghana. 

“I started this business because I realized there was a gap in the market for African food,” said Takyi-Micah, an insurance agent living in Cleveland. “I wanted to share our story and a little bit of culture. Food is one of the ways in which we can connect with people.”

He plans on using his winnings to continue to develop his product and grow his inventory. His marinade, which is gluten-free, low sodium and vegan, is available in mild and medium flavors. He will release a spicy hot flavor at the end of the year. 

“My mother is very excited about this,” he said. “I hope we can continue to grow the brand and export internationally. We have a lot of people who buy online from Europe and other places.”

The other first prize winner, Nicole Lazar, is new to food entrepreneurship. She has a background in engineering, but also a longstanding interest in holistic health. Her business, Health Junkie, began in 2016 after someone came over to her house sick while she was pregnant in 2016.

“That’s a particularly vulnerable time, and I was doing everything I could to stay healthy,” said Lazar, a Sagamore Hills resident. “Right now especially, we could all use a little immunity boost.”

She had seen numerous studies on the immunity benefits of elderberries and wanted to include the high-nutrient superfood in her diet, but everything she found on store shelves was full of processed sugars and additives. What resulted was a new passion project to develop three flavors of elderberry syrups: cherry, cinnamon and ginger.

“This is how a lot of these products get made,” she said. “People want something, they can’t find it, so they make it themselves.”

All winning products can be found now on ACME Market store shelves.

Abbey Marshall covers economic development for The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach her at abbey@thedevilstrip.com.

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