Local businesses whip up tasty bite-sized treats for statewide snack competition’s return

Who says snacking is a bad thing? For the statewide MI New Favorite Snack competition, trying tasty treats is at the heart of the annual event. Whether it’s crunchy, savory, sweet, or a mindful munchie snack, there’s something for everyone.

Competing for over $75,000 in cash prizes, local bakeries and small businesses are whipping up their signature snacks in preparation for the event taking place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9 at the McMorran Place Plaza in downtown Port Huron.

2022 MI New Favorite Snack competition 3rd place winner, Jeff Dinser of Popside Candy.

2022 MI New Favorite Snack competition 2nd place winner, Emme Ekanem of Emme's Plantain Chips from Grand Rapids, Michigan.Now in its second year, the event is designed to provide capital funding for Michigan micro-businesses with no more than 10 employees. The 2023 grand prize winner will receive a cash prize and a distribution agreement with All Star Services. The event is sponsored by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, McLaren Port Huron, Eastern Michigan Bank, All Star Services, Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Magna, Kramer Commercial Realty, Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling, LaFontaine Chevrolet Buick GMC of St. Clair, Bevi, and the City of Port Huron.

There are four separate snack categories within the competition: sweet sensations, confectionery creations, mindful munchies, and crunchy cravings. Over 50 entries were received and the top 20 finalists will be competing in the event with participants from all over the state including a few right here in the Blue Water Area.

Based in Port Huron, Royal-T Cakery is one of the finalists whose Build Your Own Cannoli Kit will be competing in the sweet sensations category. Husband and wife team Bev and Al Taylor are owners of Royal-T Cakery, which started out of the couple’s home around four years ago.

Bev started watching cookie and cake decorating videos and began making treats for her daughter’s class. What started out as a way to earn a little extra money quickly transformed into a full-blown business with a brick-and-mortar shop located at 2040 Holland Ave. in Port Huron.

“Every time I made a new treat, people would show interest and actually began asking if they could order from me,” Bev Taylor says.

The Build Your Own Cannoli Kit from Port Huron's Royal-T Cakery is one of the signature treats that will be competing in the upcoming MI New Favorite Snack competition.

Bev Taylor says their snack entry comes highly recommended and requested by their loyal customers – their cannoli. At first, the bakery wasn’t sure how to package it to keep it fresh, but after a few trials, they found a way to make it convenient and fun.

The Build Your Own Cannoli Kit comes with two, three-inch crisp cannoli shells, a pastry bag filled with two ounces of cream filling, a small pouch of chocolate chips, and a bag of chocolate syrup drizzle to top it off. The convenient tamper-proof container can fit nicely in a lunch box, cooler, or vending machine.

Our cannoli is definitely a best seller but this type of packaging and distributing is brand new,” Bev Taylor says. “As for the ingredients, the recipe is top secret! I will say that a wonderful Italian woman named Rosalina took me into her home and taught me her authentic Italian/Sicilian recipe.”

Al and Bev Taylor of Royal-T Cakery pose for a photo with MTV's Wes Bergman (middle).
The cannoli is not only a hit with local customers, but has also received recognition from other competitions.

“We actually went on a reality competition show this past February for small businesses and start-ups,” Bev Taylor says. “We pitched this idea to host (MTV's Wes Bergman) and the other judges of the show. The idea received such overwhelming support, including a standing ovation from the crowd of competitors that we immediately began working on prototypes as soon as we came home from filming … We've revised it several times and I'm sure it will undergo more changes as we receive more feedback but overall, we are thrilled with the reception of our kit.”

The Taylors are hoping to win the competition and gain more exposure for their niche sweet treat business.

“We were thrilled to be chosen as a finalist in this competition,” Bev Taylor says. “Winning the prize money would allow us to develop better packaging for the kits and to hire a team to promote them properly. We would like to be able to get these in vending machines, grocery stores, and even gas station coolers. We want Royal-T Cakery to be the standard for high-end desserts.”

Marleigh Jones, owner of MJ's Bakes.

Marleigh Jones, owner and baker of MJ’s Bakes, is also a finalist in the competition with her signature Cookies n’ Cream Cookie.

“Cookies n’ cream is really nostalgic,” she says. “Everybody loves Oreos. That’s a flavor that was really popular even when I was a kid. I also think people love the combination in the cookie; we use white chocolate, milk chocolate, Hershey's cookies ‘n’ creme bars, and Oreos. All of my cookies have more of the mix-ins than actual dough, so they’re full of these flavorful ingredients, creating all of these melty and crunchy textures.”

A home baker, Jones started her business in January 2023 and has been a familiar presence at Lexington’s Farmers Market. The born-and-raised Port Huron resident received a lot of support from friends and family, as well as the community and returning customers at the local farmer’s markets.

“I think we have a really good community of small businesses in this area, who are all really supportive of each other,” Jones says. “We’re not in competition, but we’re in support of, and working with each other.”

Jones says being recognized for her Cookies n’ Cream Cookie in the top finalists within her category is very validating as a new business.

“It makes me feel like I have a good product, and gives me that feeling that I need to keep going,” she says. “I have something here that people really want, and it means the world to me.”

The Cookies n' Cream Cookie from MJ's Bakes.

Once it moves to downtown Port Huron in the fall, Jones will be selling her cookies at her cousin’s restaurant, Smoke on the Water BBQ and Catering.

“This will allow me to greatly increase my production, and have more accessibility so that people can walk into the restaurant daily, and buy my cookies for sale,” Jones says. “They can just grab and go, rather than having to place an order or find me at a farmer’s market.”

As far as the competition, Jones looks forward to networking with other bakers and small businesses and taste-testing the other competitor’s foods too.

“I’m also excited to be in the community, to see a lot of family and friends, and to meet new people that haven’t had the chance to try my cookies yet,” she says.

Partnering together with the snack competition for a weekend of fun coined Boats & Bites, the annual Boat the Blue Antique & Classic Boat Show event will be held the same weekend. The boat show is free to attend, but wristbands for the MI New Favorite Snack competition are available for purchase in advance via the Blue Water Chamber of Commerce at bluewaterchamber.com.
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