Since day one, back in 1987, Harvey Nelson has been ready to walk away from Main Street Gourmet. He says this sitting in Main Street Gourmet’s 68,000-square-foot facility that he and his business partner first built in 1995, expanded in 1999 and expanded again in 2016. He says this in October as the company’s CEO.
While he started and grew the business with his childhood friend and college roommate, Steve Marks, Nelson is alone when telling these stories, and ownership of the enterprise is now largely in the hands of private equity. Marks, over the past year, slowly separated himself from the day-to-day business and moved on into retirement. His duties have been redistributed among several people in the company, and Nelson’s duties are next. He says he’s OK with that.
It seems reassuring to Nelson to know that young, bright people are divvying up his responsibilities. While there is still no exit date marked on his calendar, he just might feel confident enough to walk away from the wildly successful business he and Marks created. And maybe this time, he will walk away for good.
The first time it hit him
“I was going to do this for a year,” Nelson says of his business, Main Street Muffins, the name it bore when it began in 1987, shortly after Marks and his uncle bought a downtown Akron building through a sheriff’s sale. A trip to California introduced Marks and Nelson to a muffin business that was doing well, and they brought the concept back to Ohio. They were neither bakers nor businessmen.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it,” Nelson says. “It was a project to start up and create something — I like creating things. I just wanted to see if I could create something and keep it going.”
The founders were resourceful and entrepreneurial, always operating as if they were, at any moment, going to go out of business. They sold muffins out of a retail shop, through a delivery service to local businesses, and even out of a food cart they parked near the University of Akron’s library. About six months in, burnt out from the long hours, the two were asked if they would sell their muffin batter — a wholesale approach. And that, for a lot of reasons, was a turning point.