By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Mrs. Mary Hill was the Food Service Director for the Jeff Davis County Hospital. When she attended church and community potluck dinners, she always brought dumplings. It wasn’t long until friends and neighbors were asking her to make dumplings for them.
So Mary Hill began rolling out the dough and placing orders in her mailbox each day. Customers would pick them up and pay simply by leaving money in the mail box. As the demand grew, Mrs. Hill hired a few people and added on to her kitchen. Not too long after, Mary Hill Dumplings were being hand cut and delivered to the frozen food sections of more than 200 grocery stores in South Georgia.
The relationship between Tim Callaway, owner of the Dumplin Shoppe, and Mary Hill began long before Tim thought about making dumplings. In 1993, Mrs. Hill called and wanted to buy flour from him instead of from local grocery stores. Tim was instantly intrigued by the business and felt an almost instant bond to Mrs. Mary Hill.
In October 1993, she decided it was time to sell the company. Tim always had a dream of working for himself, and during his travels selling flour asked grocery managers how the dumplings were selling. Tim was told that as soon as they hit the shelves, they were sold. In December 1993, Tim acted on the idea of owning his own business and decided to buy the Dumplin Shoppe.
“I never once had any reservations about it. It was one of the easiest decisions I ever made,” stated Tim Callaway.
Business was good and steadily grew. In 1997, Tim stepped out on a leap of faith and automated the facility. Now, Mary Hill Dumplings can be found in more than 2,000 grocery stores in 13 states throughout the Southeast.
Needless to say, the automation of the process was a good move. On any given day, nine employees can produce 1,500-2,000 12-ounce packs of dumplings across the streets from the house in Hazlehurst where it all started. During preparations for holiday seasons, daily production can increase to 3,500 packs per day.
Growth of the company has been trial and error and learning by mistake. In 1993, the business was bought based on an emotional tug. “Nowadays, you have to be aware of the financials. And the big picture,” said Tim. He keeps an eye on the big picture by asking “how can I improve the company?”
Tim also notes that entrepreneurs and small businesses, no matter what their size, shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Heeding his own advice, Tim has not traveled down this road alone.
In the beginning, nutritional information and UPC codes were not the norm (or even required), so that information had to be created. Georgia Tech’s Regional Engineering Program assisted in laying out the facility as new equipment was acquired. They also assisted in package design to ensure that no matter how the product was placed in the frozen food section, the name of the product was always visible. The local development authority also assisted with a loan to assist with the automation process.
For the last three years, the company has aggressively looked at new products—including a whole wheat dumpling—to meet new federal dietary requirements for school systems. Tim went through multiple recipes and finally found one that was not only good, but good for you. Tim is also looking at new products that have more of a national appeal.
One last piece of wisdom from the Dumplin Man: “Create a fun and inviting workplace. Surround yourself with good quality people.” And for more than 20 years, Tim has certainly done that.
Be sure to check-out Mary Hill Dumplings, the “Cadillac of Dumplings,” online and in your favorite grocer’s frozen food section.
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development.