BY OLU ALEMORU
The Sept. 4 opening of Compton’s new certified Blue Line Farmers Market, located at 275 N. Willowbrook Ave., figures to be a grand affair with residents on hand to celebrate fresh and healthy options for produce sourced from the surrounding areas.
For one of the vendors — Shae Seward’s Cobblermania — it will mark the latest entrée into the Los Angeles County farmers market circuit, where devotees of her pies are dubbed Cobblermaniacs.
Seward also sells her cobblers in Hollywood, Culver City, Torrance and Pomona.
For the past year, Seward has also sold her product daily at the Golden Bird restaurant at 8300 S. Western Ave., after some apparent skullduggery when she was continually reported for health and environmental violations at her wildly popular Cobblermania stand on the northeast corner of Venice Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. Seward said she knew who the accuser was, but is unwilling to divulge the name.
“I was going to turn Cobblermania into a chain of stands,” she said. “I can’t say who the person was, but I think she was paid by a restaurateur. It was crazy; I had Dr. Phil’s limousine pull up, Tyra Banks would send for a load of cobblers and Nia Long stopped by with her son; she was really nice. During the week I would be making 50-60 [dollars a] day and $160 at the weekends. I had no life and still don’t.”
Seward, a U.S. Small Business Administration award winner who was featured on the front cover of the L.A. Times Food Section in 2007, three years after founding the company, boasts a dizzying array of fillings in her pies, including cherry apple, white peach, mango blueberry peach, sweet potato and strawberry rhubarb. She uses a natural sweetener — Agave nectar — that increases her customer base for people with diabetes or who are simply health conscious.
“The owner of the Golden Bird, who had talked to several local vendors, came to me and asked me if I would be open to him selling my cobblers there because a lot of his customers are diabetic,” she said. “I don’t use sugar or eggs, which really helped put me out there amongst diabetic and Vegan customers.
“I started selling the pies from here and that went well because some of my customers can’t always get to the markets. The Golden Bird is on the back of my business card and I’m on their menu. The owner also offered his kitchen at the back for me to use, so I have been able to incubate my business from right here.”
However, the one area where Seward, who is up at 3 a.m. most mornings to start her marathon bakeathon, seems to be lacking is reliable help.
For instance, when she does a local fair, her mother will run the booth and be there taking scores of orders and by the time Shae rolls up half of the inventory is already sold. The pies go for between $7 and $10, depending on what it costs for them to be at the event.
“I don’t know if it’s videos or everybody wants to be a baller,” she said. “I just can’t seem to find dedicated people. I read about this guy who created a diabetic cookie company, selling over 140,000 cookies to 40 countries. He could find reliable staff and created an automated process where he could fill his orders with only seven people.”
Thus, Seward has mulled such a move, creating a co-pack, a contract packer to manufacture and distribute her product to supermarket chains and the like.
“I’m aware of it,” she added, “but I’m scared off by nightmare stories I’ve heard where they change the recipe and you have no control.”
Born and raised in L.A. primarily by her Cuban grandparents, Seward was a young girl when her late beloved aunt taught her how to make a cobbler. Although she went through school and college and became a medical transcriber, she would make pies for friends and neighbors who would offer to pay her to bake extra ones.
“I was an independent contractor and I could do my business from any location,” she recalled. “I had become a cobbler fiend and decided to see if I could make a go of
it in three months. I took businesses courses and then got the award from the SBA. Then I rented the space on Venice and La Brea.”
With her pies already being sold in one co-op store in Santa Monica, Seward’s mission is to create such a strong brand that stores will come to her.
“I’ve collected thousands of names and emails from customers,” she said. “I’m always working; everyday is a party and it’s never boring.”