8th Annual Virtual
Food Entrepreneur Conference

A teacher in the Gadsden City Schools, Chip Rowan, taught special needs students to grow organic vegetables and cook. A cafe seemed like a great next step, but Rowan had no idea where to start. Then he found the Food Entrepreneur Conference, and the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe became a reality.

I knew nothing about the food industry. It was absolutely the best conference of any sort I have ever attended, and I’ve been to plenty.

Chip Rowan

Beautiful Rainbow Cafe


Chip Rowan 

Beautiful Rainbow Cafe, Gadsden 

While teaching at Gadsden’s Litchfield Middle School, Chip Rowan taught special needs students to grow organic vegetables and to cook, with the goal of conveying math, reading and science skills along with everyday life skills. Rowan thought a good next step would be to operate a café where adolescents and young adults with significant cognitive disabilities would learn important academic and transition skills, but he wasn’t sure where to start. He attended the Food Entrepreneur Conference, and the result is the Beautiful Rainbow Café in the Gadsden City Library. The café serves vegetarian fare and dessert treats, all prepared by Rowan’s students, 13 of whom are now working at local businesses. Rowan continues as a special education teacher for Gadsden City Schools.




10:15 a.m.  Introduction to Food Entrepreneurship

Are you ready to take the plunge? Christy Mendoza from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s food safety and quality team will get you going. She also works with aspiring food entrepreneurs at the Chilton Innovation Center in Clanton. The nonprofit food-processing facility for small fruit and vegetable producers and small food businesses is FDA- and ADPH-approved and works in cooperation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.

10:45 A.M.  So You Want to Start a Food Business?

Representatives from the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Food Testing and Labeling Lab, and the sanitation industry will guide you through need-to-know information about federal and state regulations, food testing and labeling, and sanitation.

1:15 P.M.  Real-life Stories from the Trenches

Who better to tell you what they did wrong, what they did right, what they wish they had known? Other operators will give you the straight dope and help guide you, so we’ve put together a can’t-beat panel of food entrepreneurs who have learned lessons the hard way.

3:00 p.m  Break

3:15 p.m.  Marketing How-To

Representatives from the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Center, Sweet Grown Alabama, and Buy Alabama’s Best will introduce you to the basics of marketing and let you know who is out there to help you.



8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.  Where (and How) to Sell Your Product 

Representatives from the Alabama Grocers Association, Monty Todd from Spoon & Ladle in Birmingham, and Orville Farmers Market in Dallas County will introduce you to various ways to sell your product. Possibilities range from farmer’s markets to grocery stores. Spoon & Ladle’s executive chef, Monty Todd, will talk about selling through grocery stores and restaurants as well as through the company’s own retail store.   

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Break 

10:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. TBA Panel

11:00 a.m. – 11:45 A.m. Customer Service 

Is the customer always right? What does that mean? How important is customer service to your present or future business? 

11:45 A.M. – 1:00 p.m. Lunch & Keynote Speaker 

Chip Rowan of Beautiful Rainbow Café in Gadsden knew nothing about the food business when he decided to open restaurant to employ and teach his students. He came to a Food Entrepreneur Conference, and the rest is history.

Sponsored by:


Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Auburn University Food Systems Institute