2 Cape businesses included in St. Louis market

Monday, October 2, 2006

One of the fair's goals is to put small companies on the map.

For Wes Kinsey, the Best of St. Louis Best of Missouri Market was something of a business saver.

A few years back, My Daddy's Cheesecake was treading water. Rumors circulated that it was going to have to close. But then Kinsey met representatives from Dierbergs, the St. Louis-based grocery store chain.

Now, Kinsey's vast array of cheesecakes are for sale in 23 of their stores and sales are good, Kinsey said.

Where did he meet the Dierbergs reps? When he was showing off his product at the Best of Missouri Market, an annual invitation-only event in St. Louis, where more than 100 Missouri food producers and artisans set up shop under big-top tents for visitors to sample their wares.

"It really helped us launch our product to the St. Louis market," Kinsey said. "It's been unbelievable. We move a tremendous amount of product up there. I would say that it did help save us."

Kinsey and his cheesecakes will be back there again this year, when the 15th annual Best of Missouri Market is held Saturday and Sunday at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The event will feature nearly 35 new vendors of a 120 total. Two of those will be from Cape Girardeau -- My Daddy's Cheesecake and Jewelry By Gentry, a home-based jewelry maker.

Artisans offer items such as willow furniture, carved wooden birds, dried flowers and wreaths, decorative ironwork, soaps, handmade pottery, baskets, decorated gourds, custom jewelry, wooden toys and garden ornaments. Entertainment includes a schedule of live musical performances.

One of the fair's goals is to put small businesses on the map, said Nora Stern, founder and co-chair of the event.

"We just wanted to showcase a lot of the talent we have in Missouri," she said. "My Daddy's and Jewelry By Gentry are two good examples of that."

The vendors can participate by invitation only. Stern and the other founder, Ellen Dubinsky, scour the state to find interesting businesses that have potential.

She first heard of My Daddy's Cheesecake when she was watching it being sold on QVC, the home shopping television channel. Then she tried a sampling and sent out an invitation almost at once.

My Daddy's has participated for eight years and Jewelry By Gentry has been there four years in a row, something that's not easy to do, considering that the market organizers change up to 20 percent of the vendors each year to keep things fresh.

"We're really selective about who we choose," Stern said. "That these two businesses keep coming back says a lot about them. They keep things innovative and they've got fans here."

As many as 22,000 people attend the event each year, which Stern said was great exposure. That's the main reason Mary Gentry attends. Gentry and her husband, Robert, own Jewelry By Gentry. They make hand-designed jewelry using a technique of wrapping and twisting gold and silver wire together.

"That's our best show of the year," Mary Gentry said. "We start preparing for that show a couple of months before time. We have a lot of customers that look for us year after year."


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