With the much-anticipated wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle fresh on people’s minds, British traditions and culture have moved to the forefront of media coverage and spectator interest lately. Horse-drawn carriages, palaces, fascinators (female guests’ ornate headwear at the royal wedding in May didn’t disappoint) and tea time – enduring facets of England’s past and present customs – are drawing renewed interest from Americans. If ever there were a good time to own a business selling tea or scones, for instance, now would be it. As luck, divine appointment or both would have it, Hoover couple Katie and Lee Caldwell already own such a business in Pelham: Highland Gourmet Scones.
They spend their days filling local, national and sometimes international orders for their handmade scones, never tiring of the unmistakable smell of a batch of scones coming out of the oven in the shop’s kitchen. They love their scones, and they love taking any left at the end of a business day home to their three children. But beyond their appreciation for the buttery, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth treats themselves, Katie and Lee love owning a business.
“This was the first business we both got interested in,” Katie says of the time period in which she and Lee were researching potential business ventures in the area following Lee’s completion of graduate school at the University of Georgia. “He’s always wanted to work for himself. That’s always been his big adventure and dream. We wanted to be able to do it together, and this seemed to fit the bill.”
Katie was working part-time in graphic design at Covenant Presbyterian Church, and full-time as a mom. Lee was working in the healthcare technology industry. When they learned Connie and Mark Wallace were looking to sell Highland Gourmet Scones, and then did some digging into the shop’s daily operations, Katie and Lee thought they would be a good fit as the next owners.
“Every single review we read was positive,” Katie says of the shop. “It seemed like the product spoke for itself in its excellence. We really couldn’t find anything bad about it.”
They had more to learn about baking the perfect scones and just how this new responsibility would fit into their routine as a family, but their instincts told them it was well worth a try. In early October 2017, the Caldwells officially took over Highland Gourmet Scones.
“So many folks didn’t know about it,” Lee says, noting the Pelham location has been open for about five years, and the original location started on Birmingham’s Highland Avenue in the 1980s. “We thought there’s an opportunity here to grow this little business through marketing.”
“The product has a history that people just love it,” Katie adds. “We thought if we don’t mess with the product and the recipes, we can do some peripheral things to boost the business.”
Katie and Lee became Connie’s students in learning how to make scones precisely how she did, right down to weighing each one to ensure it’s the correct size. They learned which ingredients go into the shop’s seven staple flavors – Original Golden Raisin (the one that’s been baked in Birmingham the longest, Katie says), Lemon Blueberry, Orange Cranberry, Hazelnut Crème Chocolate Chip, Café Mocha, Cherry Amaretto and Toasted Coconut – and when to start making the special Pumpkin Spice flavor in the fall. They also learned how to answer the common question: “What exactly is a scone?”
“A scone is a quick bread that’s leavened with baking powder,” Katie says. “It’s a bread that originated overseas, and it uses butter and cream.”
It’s not quite a cookie, but it’s not a true biscuit, either. And it can be eaten warm or room temperature, depending on your preference.
If you want more specifics, well, you’ll simply need to try one.
“Most people who eat one love it,” Katie says. “We do one thing, and we try to do it well. They’re hard to beat.”
Lee’s favorites are Café Mocha and Lemon Blueberry. For Katie, they’re Lemon Blueberry and Orange Cranberry.
Katie and Lee also brew tea and coffee as needed to sell with the scones. They have shipped scones to all 50 states, and to Switzerland and Canada. They’ve even had people in England order them to send to people in the U.S. The scones can be packaged in decorative tins as gifts. And Katie and Lee can accommodate large gatherings and private events including weddings, and they sell at the Market at Pepper Place, Ross Bridge Farmers Market and West Homewood Farmers Market.
The couple credits the Wallace family with giving them a quality product on a solid foundation upon which they can grow. A significant portion of their customer base was established before the Caldwells arrived. In Katie’s words, she and Lee have “big shoes to fill.”
“They had quite a community of folks they served and touched,” Lee says.
But because of the Wallaces’ positive first impression, people have embraced the Caldwells as the new owners. “That’s been encouraging for us.”
Katie and Lee are enjoying teaching their kids about the business. One of their sons says he wants to run it when he grows up. Perhaps the biggest motivator is the product itself.
“Everybody loves the product, and they love the Wallaces, too,” Katie says. “Hopefully, we can continue that.”
Highland Gourmet Scones is located at 210 Cahaba Valley Road in Pelham. The shop is open Tuesday-Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call (205) 991-0442, visit highlandgourmet.com or follow @HighlandGourmetScones on Facebook.