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Loudoun-based Little Austria continues its rapid growth with a $371,000 investment in a new stand-alone bakery in Sterling and plans to create more jobs over the next three years. Recently Little Austria was awarded a $13,776.71 Agriculture and Forestry Industrial Development Grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was matched with local funds by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
“Little Austria is the latest example of an organization leveraging Loudoun’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and capitalizing on partnerships with local agriculture businesses to create an amazing farm-to-fork product,” said Loudoun County Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “This expansion will allow Little Austria to enter new markets, including grocers and restaurants, and help the company grow their #LoudounPossible story.”
Like many small business success stories, Little Austria started with a bold idea, conceived over a few drinks at a Loudoun County brewery.
“We came up with the idea, why don’t we bake apple strudel? It’s natural, right?” joked co-owner Berni Gallent. “We thought there might be a niche because everyone in America knows apple strudel, but there is no apple strudel readily available.”
Berni and Helene were born in Austria. Helene’s background was as a special education teacher. Her husband, Berni, was a professional logistician.
“What we didn’t know is how to bake because we were not professional bakers,” Berni admitted. “We just learned the craft from scratch. We baked hundreds and hundreds of strudels until we said, ‘Alright, we can actually sell them.’”
After doing intense market research, finding willing farmers markets and writing a business plan, the two found a home at an Ashburn commercial kitchen, Chefscape.
We’re thrilled to be in Sterling today with Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring for the announcement of an AFID Grant for Loudoun’s Little Austria:
Posted by Loudoun County Economic Development on Friday, November 30, 2018
Little Austria started out selling in two Northern Virginia farmers markets, building up a customer base. They never expected the response from customers, who bought out their products early in the day and started asking for deliveries. The Washington Post covered them in the weekend edition twice, giving them the notoriety to join more popular markets.
By the time they left Chefscape in search of their own space, the couple was selling at more than 10 markets each week. They have already sold more than 10,000 orders of strudel in less than two years.
“This location is the obvious next step. Working out of a commercial kitchen is fantastic, but in order to scale up, you have to grow, and this is where the next step in our venture starts,” Berni explained. “Helene and I put all our eggs in one basket; we put in all our savings, we borrowed money, and then we signed our lease here in April of this year.
“The last six months was the hardest of our lives, so far.”
Berni described how the couple handled the shell space buildout themselves, working with local contractors while keeping up with booming demand.
“We were putting in 100-hour work weeks — we still do,” he said, “but this is what it takes to get a business to the next step.”
Helene added: “With this generous AFID grant provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia, we will be able to expand that vision while supporting our local, hard-working produce growers. We greatly appreciate the continued support from Loudoun County Economic Development.
“[Interim Agricultural Development Officer] Vanessa Wagner and her team have been a tremendous help over the last months. You can feel that they really believe in the mission and vision of our venture.”
As part of the AFID Grant agreement, Little Austria, which participates in our “Loudoun Made, Loudoun Grown” program, will source 36,000 pounds of Virginia-grown apples, which exceeds the AFID grant requirements. Berni says that was the plan all along, even without the grant.
“Little Austria was founded on the premise of using local ingredients,” Berni said. “We are using local flour, local apples and local produce, and by receiving this generous AFID grant, we want to reaffirm that we are committed to the hard-working apple farmers in the state of Virginia.
“As you know, a fresh apple, that is locally grown, that has only traveled a few miles to be processed, this is the key ingredient of a great strudel.”
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring was in Sterling for the announcement, praising Loudoun’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for yielding another success story.
“If you combine high-quality, Virginia-grown apples, with an enterprising baking artisan like Helene, mix that with the AFID Program, stir in strong support from Loudoun County, then bake in an entrepreneurial system until ready to serve,” she said, “that to me sounds like a recipe for success, and a good analogy for today’s announcement.
“It’s a great example of how state and local government can work together in partnership to support small businesses.”
Loudoun County is home to more than 12,000 businesses, 10,000 of which have 20 or fewer employees. That includes both commercial businesses, like Little Austria, and agricultural businesses like Loudoun’s nearly 1,400 farms.
Virginia is home to the sixth-highest apple production in the U.S., grown on 16,000 acres, producing more than 5 million bushels of apples and contributing $235 million to the economy.
“It’s exciting when state and local efforts supporting entrepreneurs can help our small businesses grow and reach new markets—bringing additional jobs, investment, and opportunity to their communities,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said in a press release. “I congratulate Little Austria on their success and am confident they will continue to thrive from their new home in Loudoun County.”
The Gallents also join approximately one-quarter of all Loudoun residents who were born internationally. According to Inc.com, immigrants today are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born citizens. This has boosted Loudoun’s vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Loudoun County has demonstrated their support to this project and they clearly understand the importance of entrepreneurs and small businesses, the important role of agriculture in all of this,” Ring said. “It’s a great day for Loudoun County, as it sees small businesses survive and then actually thrive.