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SortaSausage: Necessity is mother of invention, hard work is key to success

By Linda WhitmoreIn her kitchen at Rolling Hills Bakery and Cafe, Molly Ainsley stirs the chili she’s made from her new product, SortaSausage, which can substitute for ground beef or pork in many recipes.

There are two slogans that apply to Molly Ainsley: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “Think globally, act locally.”

Ainsley, owner and operator of Rolling Hills Bakery and Café in Silverton, had launched her business shortly before the economy crashed. Although it has been a popular place for a cup of coffee and a muffin or a slice of quiche; it’s been a tough go. A year ago, friends offered to help serve in the morning so she could reduce labor costs. This not only got her over the hump for the short term, it allowed Ainsley a bit of time to think about her options.

How many loaves of bread must she sell to pay the rent, her workers, the suppliers, insurance, utilities …?

She also thought about the new product she was working on, SortaSausage, a soy-based meat substitute; her customers loved it, would it be popular to a larger market?

The answer became obvious. Ainsley had something good, it was time to develop it.

She bumped up against another slogan – “All it takes is time and money.” She had neither. So Ainsley made a difficult decision in mid-January. She laid off her three employees and temporarily closed the bakery/café to allow her time to focus on making and marketing SortaSausage.

In the kitchen while washing dishes after her March 5 First Friday public debut of SortaSausage, Ainsley talked about the history of her product and its future.

She had been introduced to vegan cooking by her daughter, Claire. “I was amazed at how delicious it was and I didn’t miss the meat.” She began to introduce meat-less meals into her own diet. She also had a need for a vegetarian or vegan options to serve her café customers. This led to creation of her recipe for SortaSausage.

The product looks like ground meat and substitutes for pork or beef. It is non-fat, high protein, gluten-free and high in Omega-3 essential fatty acids. In addition to its healthful attributes, there is one major factor that is of primary importance to Ainsley. It’s eco-friendly.

Ainsley said she had read John Robbins’ book, May All Be Fed: A Diet for a New World, which, she said, says “if Americans reduced their meat consumption by 10 percent, 6 million people could be fed a year” on grains raised on land formerly dedicated to feeding cattle.

Ainsley is passionate about doing even just a small thing to make the world a better place. “If people would give up one meat dish a week, it could make a difference,” she said. Besides, SortaSausage tastes good. She says to meat eaters, “Try it, you might like it.”

It substitutes for meat in anything you can think of – chili, tacos, pizza, potstickers and spaghetti. And you only use half as much SortaSausage as beef or pork to make a hearty dish.

“A ¼ -pound serving is 160 calories, a ¼ pound of hamburger is 426 calories and (SortaSausage) has no cholesterol,” Ainsley said.

She is taking her message to the world. While her café is closed, Ainsley is hitting the road to introduce her product to chefs at restaurants, schools and institutions.

It’s taken several months, and lots of professional guidance to get to this point.

“Chemeketa Business Development Center has helped me all along the way,” giving her information on product development, distribution and protecting her recipe – “intellectual property.”

She worked with the Food Innovation Center in Portland, a project of the Department of Agriculture, Oregon Micro-enterprise Network, the Small Business Association and Oregon State University. “They are there to help you get your product designed and marketed,” Ainsley said. “It costs money, but they helped me determine the nutritional information and see all the things I needed to do for packaging and such. They have a check list of things I needed to do.”

During the process, she learned of a grant offered through Marion County to develop manufacturing jobs. With this funding, she put together a new kitchen in a side room of her bakery.

While the bakery/café is closed, Ainsley is making mountains of SortaSausage to have ready for distribution, and she’s making contact with potential customers.

Already, Bon Appetite, the outsource food service for universities, has brought SortaSausage to Willamette University and it’s being served at OMSI and Wellspring.

SYSCO foods, a national food distributor, is “champing at the bit to distribute this,” Ainsley said. “I have to make these initial connections and they’ll take over distribution. Then they’ll have 160 salespeople telling about the product.”

So Ainsley has a full schedule of appointments. “Now I’m going to public schools, hospitals. These people are foodies, they want the best food possible. They like the texture, color, I’m going to every vegetarian restaurant, every place that serves breakfast.” For now, individuals can get some by leaving a message at 503-873-8489.

Ainsley is optimistic about the future. “My business coach says ‘Think big,’” she said. “I had a feeling while I was getting the dishes ready for First Friday that something amazing is ready to happen.

“It’s not going to be easy – it hasn’t been easy so far.”

Maybe there’s another slogan for Ainsley. Gen. George Patton said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

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