You may look at blocks of cheese and piles of sliced meat and see a snack, but Martha Ann Merritt Taylor sees an artistic masterpiece.For the past two years, Taylor has built a charcuterie and …
You may look at blocks of cheese and piles of sliced meat and see a snack, but Martha Ann Merritt Taylor sees an artistic masterpiece.
For the past two years, Taylor has built a charcuterie and catering business, but her path to grazing board success has been winding.
Taylor grew up on the Eastern Shore and headed off to college after graduating from Bayside Academy. Her passion was art, but she enjoyed tutoring students, so she pursued a degree in secondary education and English. Teaching would give her summers to focus on her art. After three years of teaching, she quickly realized it wasn't what she wanted to do. So, she headed back to school.
It was while she was studying to be an anesthesiologist that Taylor's mom, Ashley Merritt Grimes, gave her a piece of advice that would change her trajectory.
"She could tell I was procrastinating things. She said just once do something that you actually want to do. Something you enjoy," Taylor said. "I wasn't passionate about anything I was doing, and I think my mom could tell my flame was burning out. I needed a creative outlet."
When asked how she chose meat and cheese as her canvas, Taylor laughed and said it was the weirdest story. Growing up she did not eat pork. She didn't like bacon, sausage or salami. That changed in a strange way.
"I was in the hospital, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some weird blood infection. They couldn't figure it out and I was in the hospital for a week. All I wanted to eat was one of those little Hillshire Farms lunchable charcuteries," Taylor laughed. "I don't know why. I had never eaten one, but I was craving it so bad. When I was finally able to eat again my mom brought me one. I knew it was the food I wanted to make pretty. Now I eat everything; bacon, sausage, every salami there is."
Cured meat and cheese have been a staple at catered events for years, but the highly stylized charcuterie boards became popular on social media in the last three years. Taylor started making little cheese platters for fun and football games.
"My mom is a host; I am a host, and we host a lot of parties, and everyone is always at our house. I wanted to make food that impressed people," Taylor said.
Taylor was having fun creating charcuterie boards for friends and their events and people suggested she should do it as a job, and she agreed.
She had zero food industry experience, never owned a business or taken a business class, but she jumped in with two feet. Having an attorney as a father, she has an idea about the legal ramifications if she did not go about it the right way. She got her paperwork, licenses and insurance in order.
"This has been the biggest learning curve of my life," Taylor said. "It has been really difficult, but very rewarding. It was a long road to get here but I finally, at 32 years old, feel fulfilled by my business."
Martha May's Charcuterie and Catering began in a rented kitchen space in Loxley offering charcuterie boards for delivery. Her kickoff happened around Valentine's Day in 2021 offering meat and cheese roses. Everyone wanted it and she knew the demand was here.
In the beginning, she estimates that 80% of her business was charcuterie boards and 20% events. The bulk of her early business were small boards delivered to people's homes. As the demand grew, she added items and was asked to make mini boards that could be sold at a local bar, Tongue and Groove.
Taylor quickly realized she needed a central space to organize and eventually expand. Her mother has owned Ark Self Storage since its inception. Taylor grew up playing in the office and helping her mom with the business. Ashley let Taylor take over the space for her business. It took six months and lots of learning about codes and regulations.
Stepping in the door of Martha May's Charcuterie and Catering, you feel like you are in an Instagram photo. A greenery wall flanked with a neon sign graces one wall, a gold Martha May sign hangs from the ceiling and shelves along the back wall are lined with boards and bowls.
Since opening Martha May's in January 2021, Taylor has seen rapid growth. She spent the first three months self-promoting and handing out over 1,000 business cards. Her success has been solely due to her work ethic and drive.
"I eat, sleep and breath charcuterie. It is my life," Taylor said. "I am extremely passionate about it. I am also extremely competitive, and I want to be the best there is. I am not deterred from my goals easily. I don't think I have ever set a goal that I didn't achieve, and I set them really high so even if I do miss them I still do well."
The drive is something she needs because Martha May's is primarily a one-woman operation. She finally hired someone to help with deliveries and her mom steps in to help with prep work on big jobs. Taylor spends Mondays doing office work and communication. On Tuesdays, she is in Loxley working on her take and bake casseroles. The rest of the week she is working on boards and events. Her business now is 80% events like weddings, Mardi Gras balls and parties and 20% smaller boards.
She is also at the beach a lot due to her partnership with Southern Charm Picnic Company. Taylor is their exclusive charcuterie provider. The two companies were recently featured on SouthernLiving.com in an article titled "Foodie Tour of Alabama's Gulf Coast," which featured local restaurants, bars and food experiences. Martha May's and Southern Charm Picnic Company were also featured on an HGTV episode that was filmed at the beach.
The national media attention has been good for business. Taylor said she is now booking into May 2023.
Taylor said she is entering her busiest time of year with fall weddings, football season, Halloween and Mardi Gras Krewe events. While she is super busy, she is continuing to focus on the future.
Martha May's store front opened to the public at the beginning of August offering take and bake casseroles, an assortment of dips and spread and mini charcuterie boards in a cooler. Taylor has been connecting with local vendors to source products she can use for her boards but also sell. Her plan is to expand into a retail store where customers can buy gifts and products.
The future is as bright as Taylor's personality. She has her sights set on growth and hopes to one day see her casseroles, jellies and dips sold nationally.
"Very rarely does a parent say, 'hey, stop going to school to be a doctor and go chase your art dreams.' But it has obviously worked for me," Taylor said.
For more information on Martha May's Charcuterie and Catering, visit MarthaMayDesigns.com and follow Martha May's on social media.