VERA STEWART, President/CEO of VeryVera
Vera Stewart, a University of Georgia graduate with a degree in Home Economics, always knew her passion for education would lead her to a career in teaching. She worked as a teacher for several years, but soon married and found herself as a young wife and stay-at-home mom. While at home with her two boys she would bake and cook for family and friends, as her sons watched from their high chairs. She never dreamed that her attachment to family recipes would ever be more than a hobby to keep her busy at home with her boys.
In 1984, her hobby turned into a small catering business she started out of her home in Augusta, GA, Vera & Company. She cultivated a talent for preparation and presentation, but it was her quality and attention to detail that grew the business.
So, how did this small town Georgia girl become a national player in the mail order food business? It truly started in her formative years, when Vera used to ride the Nancy Hanks train from Macon to Atlanta each summer to visit her grandmother, Vera Wingfield. There, she learned to bake the special cakes her grandmother had spent a lifetime perfecting.
Vera would learn to rely on her family recipes, as the local economy began slowing in the early 1990s. Vera began looking for new ways to grow and diversify her catering business. To that end, she launched VeryVera in 1993, a mail order subsidiary of Vera & Company specializing in homemade baked goods. Incorporating recipes passed down by her grandmother. Vera created a new niche in the gourmet mail order market by offering "homemade cakes, just like mama made it!"
VeryVera was a natural extension of her catering business which had already developed its own extensive mailing list from local and out of state Masters Golf Tournament customers. Next the challenge was to figure out a way to ship the cakes and have customers receive them just like they came from the oven. After several trial and error shipments, in 1993 the secure packaging method for delivering cakes around the country was perfected with the original VeryVera tin.
The VeryVera name received national recognition in 1995 when an editorial piece written in the November issue of Southern Living Magazine featured the mail order cakes; VeryVera made a sale in all 50 states within 10 days. Since that time, many other feature articles have been written in The New York Times, Gourmet, In Style and Veranda.
In 1996, Vera launched her website, www.veryvera.com; now the whole world had access to her cakes. The pioneer site was the first e-commerce sites in Augusta, GA.
Vera is constantly thinking of ways to diversify and expand her business. In 2001 she added Gourmet-to-Go items to her mail order division; the line includes casseroles, spreads, breads and butters.
She then opened VeryVera CafĂ© in 2002, which serves sandwiches, salads, wraps, soups, and daily special casseroles for lunch daily. The cafĂ© has become a weekly ritual for many locals.
Vera is a teacher at heart, and this passion would create an exciting and instrumental division in her business. After realizing that business slowed in the summer, Vera and her executive team thought of creating a cooking camp for children during their summer break. In the summer of 2004, The School of Good Taste opened its doors to hundreds of children. Campers attend a week long session where they learn cooking techniques and proper etiquette lessons from Vera.
In April 2009, VeryVera's Strawberry Layer Cake was chosen as one of Oprah's Favorite Things, in O Magazine. A year later, Vera faced off with Bobby Flay in a Carrot Cake challenge on the Food Network's Throwdown with Bobby Flay. And in typical Vera fashion... she came out on top! From this sort of national exposure, VeryVera has reached households from coast to coast.
Her mail-order line now drop-ships products through other reputable vendors such as Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Costco.
Although, the original packaging tin was great, in 2010, Vera decided to follow the green movement and use sustainable packaging products. The same trial and error shipments were made, but alas a custom bakery box was designed for the special delivery of VeryVera cakes. Vera also uses 100% biodegradable packaging peanuts, which are edible, although she suggests saving your appetite for her cakes and casseroles.
Vera's Chicken & Wild Rice and Parmesan Squash Casserole were picked up by Costco Wholesale, and beginning in the fall of 2010 can be found in 27 stores in the Southeast.
VeryVera is currently on the road show circuit with Sam's Club, and hopes to be a staple in their Georgia stores.
Today the privately held company with divisions in catering, gourmet-to-go and mail order confections, is best summarized by the company motto, "It will get done!" VeryVera is reminiscent of an era when homemakers took pride in their homemade confections and shared them with new neighbors or sent them as an expression of sympathy. The VeryVera philosophy is based on a winning attitude and passion for perfection.
VeryVera proudly gives back to the Augusta community through corporate funding of events, has a scholarship program for young people employed within her organization and raises money nationally for Cancer Research in memory of her mother by a percentage of sales on her Strawberry Layer Cake. Her BeCause Program gives vouchers for meals to patients recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer A company proud to be American-made, VeryVera offers products at a discounted price to ship at-cost to soldiers overseas, as her Treats for Troops initiative.
A Role Model
Vera has received several awards throughout the years for best local caterer, several Addy nominations and awards for her website and catalogs, and recognition as one the nation's best mail order companies by The New York Times.
Vera was awarded the Woman of Distinction Award for 2010 by the CSRA's Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia for serving as a role model for young women in the Augusta area.
Vera was particularly honored by her 2010 induction into the Junior Achievement of Georgia's Business Hall of Fame. She is flattered to be held at the same esteem as her fellow laureates, and is the second female to be inducted into the Hall of Fame since its inception in 2003.
Public Speaker for Hire
Vera's 'day job' is running VeryVera, but you can hire her to speak at your next meeting or event by emailing your information to email@example.com.