Food entrepreneurs across Michigan vie for top honors in new snack contest

There’s only one rule at the MI New Favorite Snack contest: come hungry.

On Sept. 17 the top 20 finalists in the statewide snack creation contest will flock to downtown Port Huron to showcase their nibbles — and vie for $50,000 in cash prizes. The top prize winner also will receive a distribution package from All Star Services, a snack/food and beverage distributor.

Each entrant must be headquartered in Michigan and employ less than 10 people.

David Shammas entered the competition this year. Photo: Instagram.

The contest drew entries from small and emerging snack-makers across Michigan like David Shammas, founder and co-owner of Live Crispy snacks in Bloomfield Hills. Shammas and his partners started their quest for the perfect snack five years ago.

“I couldn’t get away from the bad snacking, so I bought a dehydrator and my friend Kenny and I started searching for a healthier alternative,” says Shammas, whose coconut and pineapple fruit crisps earned a spot as a MI New Favorite Snack finalist.

“Imagine a fruit smoothie dried into a crispy chip,” Shammas says. “It’s light and airy, but with a bright flavor.”

Shammas, who also owns Café Succo in Birmingham, has worked in the restaurant business for three decades. He’s loved pursuing the perfect fruit chip, one pineapple at a time. The snacks are available on Live Crispy’s website and in select southeast Michigan markets.

He’s hoping to win the contest on Sept. 17 or catch the eye of snack manufacturers and distributors looking for a new, healthy product line.

“I feel like we’ve reinvented a way to eat fruit. Now we want to spread the love of Live Crispy all over the country,” Shammas says.

Dearborn-based Wani Cakes is in the running this year. Photo: Courtesy of Wani Cakes.

Other Metro Detroit entrants include Dearborn's Wani Cakes, for their Berry Summer Cakewich, and Birmingham's Why Bars, for their Blueberry Bliss.

In addition to All Star Services’ major role in the contest, several other local organizations are also helping to make it happen. The Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce is organizing event logistics and the $50,000 in cash prizes is being provided by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and the James C. Acheson Donor Advised Fund.

“We think this could really be the beginning of something special, and it’s exciting to see place-based funders like our Community Foundation playing a prominent role in lifting up these new and emerging food entrepreneurs,” says Randy Maiers, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.

Beth Welser, owner of Dot’s Candy Bar, has been spreading the love of cookies, candy, cupcakes, and scones across the Blue Water Area for years.

Since she was 11 years old, Welser loved being in the kitchen creating wonderful things to eat. Over the years, she gave thousands of cookies and treats to family and friends before deciding to start her own business.

After 40 years in healthcare, the door opened for that dream to become a reality.

“Dot’s Candy Bar was born out of a love for our family, who became my taste testers and advisors,” Welser says. She named her company Dot’s, a nickname for her grandson Joshua.

The 62-year-old bakes five days a week in the chef’s kitchen she and her husband, Herbert, installed in their sesquicentennial farmhouse in St. Clair. She sells her confections every Saturday, from Memorial Day to Halloween, at Vantage Point Farmers Market in Port Huron.

It was her Peanut Butter Bar that earned Welser a place as a finalist in the snack contest. It features peanuts on the top and bottom, with a layer of peanut butter nougat in between. She drenches the bars with dark chocolate, drizzles some on top, and then sprinkles them with Reese’s Pieces.

“I started making them last summer because my grandkids are crazy for peanut butter and chocolate,” she says. “This one is for serious peanut butter lovers only.”

Welser is thrilled to be selected as a contest finalist and says that winning would be beyond her wildest dreams. Regardless of the contest outcome, Welser is making plans to open her own bakery in downtown Port Huron.

“I never envisioned this would be something I was able to attain, but I am so humbled and grateful for it all,” she says.

Jon Holden, vice president of sales and marketing for All Star Services, got to taste all the snack entries as part of the selection process. He says he was astounded by the innovation of the makers.

“Michigan is full of tremendous, tenacious snack makers and I cannot wait to see who will be crowned the MI New Favorite Snack champion on Sept. 17,” Holden says.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.