8th Annual,
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.

Currently postponed due to coronavirus COVID-19. Check back soon for updates.


1850 Lay Dam Road, Clanton, Alabama

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


Joe Friday

CEO, Whitfield Foods, Montgomery

Wednesday’s keynote speaker is Joe Friday, CEO of Montgomery’s Whitfield Foods. You might not be familiar with Whitfield Foods, but surely you know Alaga Syrup—the “sweetness of the South.” The company was born more than a century ago, and founder L.B. Whitfield suffered all the trials  of being a food entrepreneur. The company has survived for almost 115 years, however, and has added products and evolved as a health-conscious public has drifted away from sweet cane syrup. Today, Whitfield Foods is working on new recipes for cane syrup, and is a contract manufacturer whose clients include PepsiCo. Friday will tell you what it takes to survive and thrive over the long haul.

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.




9:00 a.m.  Registration and Continental Breakfast

10:00 a.m.  Welcome

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.

12:00  Noon Lunch & Keynote Speaker

Joe Friday is CEO of Whitaker Foods in Montgomery manufacturer of Alaga cane syrup and other products, as well as a contract manufacturer for companies such as Pepsico.

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.



8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.  Continental Breakfast

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.

Break Out Sessions

Cottage Food Law: Alabama’s Cottage Food Law allows some foods to be prepared in a home kitchen at sold directly to consumers or at farmer’s markets. Sales are not to exceed $20,000, and a food safety course is required by the Alabama Department of Public Health. You can get all your questions answered, take the course, and get certified by attending this breakout session.

Food Processing/Catering/Foodservice: Do you have questions about food labeling? What are requirements if there are allergens in your food? When do you need a UPC? Do you need a commercial kitchen? How do you find a co-packer? Get your questions answered in this breakout session.


The Business of Food: Experts from the Alabama Small Business Development Center, part of the U.S. Small Business Administration will answer your questions about anything from writing a business plan to finding funding for your small business.

Cake Decorating: People buy decorated cakes for special occasion from birthdays to graduations to weddings. Operating a home-based cake decorating business is a realistic goal, but you need more than great recipes and imagination to make a cake beautiful. The first step is to take a cake decorating class, and you can attend a class during a breakout session.


Sponsored by:


Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Auburn University Food Systems Institute