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Four Hartford Area Businesses Win Top Prizes

HARTFORD, CT (December 12, 2023)– reSET, the Hartford-based entrepreneur support organization committed to nurturing businesses with a social mission, staged its successful Foodie Demo Day at the YG Club at Dunkin’ Park in Hartford last Thursday, December 7.

Eight promising food entrepreneurs pitched their businesses and offered samples of their products to a panel of four industry-leading judges and audience of supporters. Four entrepreneurs emerged as prize winners, splitting $2800 in prize money in addition to the $2000 business growth grants awarded to each entrepreneur completing reSET’s Food Accelerator program. A total of $18,800 in grant funds was awarded to participating businesses.

“These businesses are offering thoughtfully niche products for the Connecticut food scene, some targeting vegan or gluten free markets, or unique catering experiences, even pet treats with a mission. We’re happy to propel their growth in social impact as well as business impact,” said Sarah Bodley, reSET’s Executive Director. “Today’s consumers are interested not only in new products, but want to spend their money on businesses that make a difference. Knowing that a company participated in a reSET program helps to ensure that a business has a social mission as well.”

First prize went to Becky Tkacs, owner of Charlie’s Traveling Treat Truck, a mobile dog bakery that uses all natural ingredients, compostable packaging and supports rescue organizations.

Second prize went to Kleon Clarke, founder of Nyam Bakery, a local Jamaican bakery specializing in cocobread rolls and loaves, and bringing different flavor varieties and Caribbean-inspired sweets to the community.

Third prize went to Nicola Poplin founder of Pop’s Famous Guac which produces wholesome, preservative-free guacamole with real, whole ingredients you feel good about feeding the people you love, satisfies taste buds and nourishes the heart, body and soul of you and your loved ones.

The audience crowned Deirdre Brickhouse as the winner of the Audience Choice Award. Deirdre is the chief baker and owner of SweetHouse Creations, a Hartford based bakery that specializes in simply elegant treats that happen to be vegan and/or gluten-free.

“This is our first accelerator program featuring only later-stage food businesses. we’re thrilled with the advances each company has made throughout the program,” said Katrice Claudio, reSET Food Program Manager. “We are so grateful to our judges who reached back to offer expert feedback and tips during the pitch competition. Our entrepreneurs really appreciate the support!”

A panel of four leaders from the Connecticut food and beverage industry served as judges for the business pitches, offering feedback, industry connections and suggestions on market positioning. Judges were:

  • Alisa Bowens-Mercado is the Founder, CEO, and Brewmaster of Rhythm Brewing Co., the first African-American, woman-owned beer brand in Connecticut, and is a part owner of CT-based coffee brand, Rhythm Roasting Co.
  • Craig Wright owns and operates Craig’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in Vernon, CT.
  • Gina Luari is a Connecticut-based restauranteur with several Place 2 Be locations across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Dallas, and most recently opened RAW*, a raw bar concept in the heart of Downtown Hartford.
  • Justin Morales is the owner of Up ‘n’ Down bourbon and is a hospitality professional with experience launching five local restaurants. He currently serves as the General Manager at Hartford’s Fire By Forge and was recognized as the 2017 CRAzies Connecticut Bartender of the Year.

The Food Accelerator program held virtual and in-person classes over three months, enrolling small food businesses ready for growth. The program included companies in the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) and food service sectors, helping them scale towards creating a sustainable impact in Connecticut’s food landscape. Four of the eight companies participating were graduates of previous reSET incubator programs, and all of the eight businesses are woman- and/or BIPOC-owned.

In addition to the prizewinners above, the 2023 Food Accelerator entrepreneurs and their companies are:

Artisianna is a woman-owned business launched by Anna DiMascio Flynn that manufactures fruit truffles made with fruit, nuts and seeds – just pure and simple ingredients mainly sourced from US farms.

A’s Artisanal, led by Antoinette Sappleton, makes ‘easy fancy’ a reality! A’s Artisanal is the purveyor of piquancies, specializing in gourmet food sundries that effortlessly elevate your dining experience. Whether you’re sprucing up an evening salad, enhancing a charcuterie and wine soirée, or elevating your favorite brunch bunch, our products are the ultimate ‘easy fancy’ solution.

Lane Simmons is the creative founder of Smokin Lane’s BBQ & Seafood, specializing in southern style wood-flavored BBQ paired with traditional comfort food sides.

Narelle Thomas is the founder of K Cookies, a Hartford-based, Springfield-born artisanal cookie company that blends quality ingredients with exceptional taste. Specializing in vegan and gluten free cookies with sugar free and fruit sweetened options, K cookies makes desserts accessible to the allergen plagued and picky eaters alike.

The Foodie Demo Day was sponsored by MetroHartford Alliance, The Hartford Chamber of Commerce, Key Bank, with grants and program support provided by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.


About reSET
reSET is a nonprofit organization in Hartford, CT, whose mission is advancing the social enterprise sector. reSET specializes in social enterprise ― impact-driven business with a double or triple bottom line. In addition to providing coworking space, accelerator, and mentoring programs, reSET aims to inspire innovation and community collaboration and to support entrepreneurs in creating market-based solutions to community challenges. reSET’s goal is to meet entrepreneurs wherever they are in their trajectory and to help them take their businesses to the next level. Visit reSET | Where Great Companies Grow (