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Southern Straws, run by mother and son team of Margaret and Neal Amos in Columbus Georgia, is in the business of nostalgia. Sure, technically they make and sell three different varieties of cheese straws, Original, Mild and Spicy, but what the Amoses hear most often is, “this reminds me of the cheese straw my grandmother used to make” or, “I used to have cheese straws like this when I was a kid.”
Cheese straws make people happy, Margaret told us recently. They are a reminder of childhood and parties and other happy times. She loves that she can share her made-from-scratch, old-fashioned cheese straws locally and across the country.
Not all cheese straws are created equal. One main difference is in the ingredients they use. Margaret knows that to make the best cheese straws you need the best ingredients, and that means all-natural flour, butter and cheese. The cheese is shredded by hand, ensuring the freshest flavor without all of those preservatives used in pre-packaged shredded cheese. It means name-brand butter, which floored their delivery man who is used to delivering generic butter in bulk to most of his customers.
Not only do the ingredients differentiate Southern Straws cheese straws from others, but the shape is unique, as well. Most cheese straws are star-shaped. Southern Straws are flat, and hand cut into bite-size wafers. This makes them crispy throughout, with the butter and cheese flavors really popping.
The Original recipe, with a nice kick of cayenne pepper at the end, was Margaret’s mother’s recipe. Since launching Southern Straws, they have added two additional flavors: Spicy, for those who like even more of a kick and Mild, for those who don’t. Each flavor has a strong following. The spicy flavor seems to end up at a lot of tailgate events, whereas the mild flavor is frequently enjoyed by kids.
What would become Southern Straws, originally started as a hobby. Margaret used to bake cheese straws and bring them as host/hostess presents wherever she went. They were so beloved by family and friends that she was often told, only half-kiddingly, not to show up without the cheese straws.
After a tumultuous year of change in 2012, when Margaret lost her mother, her sister, and her corporate job, Margaret made the choice to see what would happen if she turned that hobby into a business. She started slowly, putting a kitchen together and learning about the legalities around starting a food business. She would take her cheese straws around to businesses to drop off as a gift and raise awareness. Slowly the orders came in.
A boost to the business came in 2014 when Neal, the oldest of three sons, graduated with a finance degree from the University of Georgia. Wanting to work with a startup, Neal immediately joined Southern Straws, which is what Margaret really considers the real launch of the company.
Each has their individual responsibilities. Neal oversees production and Margaret is in charge of customer relations. They are true partners in the business. Each respects and values what the other brings to the table, whether it is years of business experience or fresh ideas and new perspective. The icing on the cake is how much they enjoy working together.
The duo is thankful to Georgia Grown and credits their relationships with other Georgia-based small businesses as part of their success. “They’re my friends,” Margaret says. We’re all like a family and help each other out. If something is working for someone, that solution might be good for us too. We don’t all have to reinvent the wheel. They are grateful for this community of local retailers who they have connected with, such as Farmview Market.
These days, the entire crew is too busy packing orders for the holiday season to think much about what’s next. The office is often a hub of activity when Margaret’s other sons are home from college. Everyone is put to work and contributing ideas about how to improve on this good thing. She’s still a little giddy they’ve been able to grow to over 600 stores across the country. She also knows that tasting is believing. They have had their greatest success when people get a chance to sample the product.
Of course, being a Flavor of Georgia Award finalist two years in a row hasn’t hurt either. Taste for yourself at the Holiday Market at Farmview on Saturday, December 1st from 9a-1p.
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