This Charlotte-based small business bakes “the best muffins with the best ingredients” — and plans to move forward with the help of an Access to Capital grant.
Claire Putterman had just finished a successful and fulfilling career as a high school French teacher when she decided to embark on another one — that of a Charlotte small business owner. She knew it would be hard work, but it meant embarking on a dream she’d had for years. A global pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown was absent on her list of potential challenges.
“I always wanted to start a baking business. My passion for healthy baking goes back to feeding my own children,” she said. “Modern Muffin really started because of my kids. They’re grown up now, and they’d always tell me, ‘Mom, these muffins are so good, and there’s nothing like them on the market.’”
The goodness of Modern Muffin can be attributed to the original recipes Claire and her family have perfected over their years in business — muffins that are as good as they are good for you.
“Most muffins you find on the market are made with bleached flour and a bunch of added sugar and oil,” Claire said. “Ours have no artificial ingredients or flavors — we use fruit to sweeten our muffins, and in the case of our High-Protein line, we use organic superfoods, probiotics and organic Greek yogurt.” The result is a tasty, healthy and easy breakfast or snack that comes prepackaged — ensuring the muffins are extra fresh the moment you eat them.
Nine years after the company’s founding in 2011, Modern Muffin was not only a successful business but a family affair. Each member of the Putterman family — Claire, her husband, her daughter and two sons, and their spouses — play a role in the business, and it’s a big part of why the business has been able to thrive.
“I still remember our first demo at Harris Teeter,” she said. “We made 60 muffins, which we thought would be more than enough, and we sold out in an hour. My son said to me, ‘Mom, we’re going home to make more muffins.’ We left the rest of the family at the store, went home and baked a bunch more muffins, and came back two hours later and sold out again. That story sums up our business ethos so well. Anything we need to do, we’ll do it.”
Like any small business, Modern Muffin has had its share of ups and downs. But very little could have prepared the Putterman family for COVID-19 and the immediate effect it had on their business.
“At the beginning of the year, we had just launched our High-Protein Muffins after working on the recipe for well over a year,” Claire said. “The line had just been accepted in over 100 stores in North Carolina and the South — Harris Teeter, Earthfare and a number of natural local markets — and we were at the very end of the review process with the Southern region of Whole Foods.” When the pandemic became a reality in North Carolina, the family was just about to send their first shipment to Earthfare, which went out of business. That cost them gaining access to UNFI, a much larger nationwide distributor.
The business did its best to pivot to online sales, which was successful for a bit, but with the combination of promotions to build awareness and a fixed budget for online marketing and advertising, eventually those higher sales tapered off. “We started to feel pretty defeated,” Claire said.
When Charlotte’s Open for Business initiative was announced, Modern Muffin applied immediately — “it was an easy application process,” Claire says — and kept their fingers crossed. When an email came through notifying them of their Access to Capital grant approval, Claire and her husband “literally did a happy dance in their kitchen.”
“We have a family text chain, and kept telling our kids, ‘Check your email, check your email!’” Claire said. “It felt like a lifeline.”
The funds will be used in several ways — enhancing the company’s social media and digital marketing presence, paying for distribution and slotting fees — there’s a high cost associated with getting into a new store, as food companies often have to fill their first order free of charge so the store can gauge interest — as well as stocking up on the high-quality ingredients for which Modern Muffin is known.
For Claire and her family, having these funds means being able to continue sharing Modern Muffin with as many people as possible in Charlotte and beyond.
“Being a small business owner means you have every possible emotion in the book usually, and COVID-19 has made it even more challenging,” she said. “Having this kind of support from your city — it makes you feel like even though things are really tough right now, they’re going to work out in the end. This business is my heart, and I’m thrilled my heart can keep going.”
Claire Putterman, owner of Modern Muffin, is an Access to Capital Grant recipient. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte is distributing $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. If you are a small business owner with a business headquartered in Charlotte, learn more about the Access to Capital Grant and apply today.