Meats and Cheeses and Olives, Oh My! How this Veteran Launched a Successful Charcuterie Franchise Kerry Sylvester started Graze Craze in Oklahoma well before charcuterie became a $378 million industry.
After Kerry Sylvester left the military in 2003, she moved to Oklahoma and earned a degree in business management. But she also claimed a more informal distinction — she was the designated "charcuterie person" in her social circle. "When we bring food to our friends' homes, we want them to say, 'Wow, you made that?'" she says. Still, as a working single mother, Sylvester didn't always have time to properly plan and execute her boards, and after searching fruitlessly for a place where she could pick up a freshly made board before a party, she decided the only option was to create a company herself.
Just over two years later, Graze Craze has 12 locations around the U.S. — with 100 more expected to open by the end of the year — and the brand recently formed an affiliation with United Franchise Group (UFG), a "family" of brands that support and counsel each other through the process of franchise expansion. Sylvester's timing was fortuitous; the charcuterie business has ballooned into a $378 million industry. But as Sylvester explains, success required a lot of trial and error.
Why do you think charcuterie has become so popular?
Not all of us are cooks, but a lot of us are creative people. Charcuterie is a way for people who don't necessarily have a food background to become a foodie and create something. I grew up eating charcuterie as a child in England, and when I came to the U.S., it wasn't as popular. So I became the person who brought the charcuterie board.
What were some early challenges for Graze Craze?
The niche we've mastered wasn't easy. When I went into this, I knew I would need a certain volume of items, and sourcing our ingredients was the most important part. It wasn't about me running to Trader Joe's! I wanted to be able to say, "Our salami comes from a 300-year-old, family-owned company in New Jersey, and our chocolate bark comes from a chocolatier in Oklahoma and they're the only ones who make our recipe."
There was a lot of testing. I mean, you wouldn't believe how many types of grapes there are. Or crackers! We didn't want to use bagged carrots because there's too much moisture; you can't just pull them out of the bag and throw them on the board. That's quick, but it's not quality. Nothing on our boards is pre-sliced. It's important for customers to know they got a board that was freshly made that day. There's
a million beautiful boards on social media, but if you ate that board, would it be as good as it looks?
Franchising for the first time can be intimidating if you don't have guidance from others who have done it before. Is that what attracted you to the first-hand advice you get from an affiliation with UFG?
I never thought this would be a franchise. I had no idea what that would even entail. But I've learned so much just in the one or two years we've known UFG. They really understand franchising, and I'm so excited about the exponential growth that we're having.
What's been one of the things that surprised you about starting Graze Craze?
It's not just food, it's the people — it's where our charcuterie boards go when they leave our stores. You wouldn't believe some of the stories I hear.
One recent story might make me cry while talking about it. There was a lady and her mother who purchased a board for Easter. Her sister had terminal cancer, and she only had a few months to live, so this board was part of their last Easter meal together. She said, "You just don't know what this charcuterie board means to us." It blows my mind sometimes. So that's the passion part of this.