A brownie edge worth a million

@CNNMoney December 13, 2011: 3:34 PM ET
Matt Griffin, the owner of Baker's Edge, created a brownie pan that helped generate his first million dollars in revenue.

Matt Griffin, the owner of Baker's Edge, created a brownie pan that helped generate his first million dollars in revenue.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Matt Griffin, 36, was baking brownies one night when he came up with an idea that panned out -- literally -- into a million-dollar business.

"I'm sitting there thinking, 'Wow, the corner brownies are the best in the pan and nobody even talks about it,' " he said.

Then it hit him: Why not design a pan that bakes only corner pieces? Baker's Edge's Edge Brownie Pan, ($34.95) is based on his late-night inspiration.

The utensil debuted in early 2006. The rectangular metal pan has three interior walls and a slender continuous chamber that gives two chewy edges to each brownie. A conventional pan creates mushy brownies in the center and chewy pieces on the perimeter.

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Last year, Baker's Edge, based in Carmel, Ind., hit the sweet spot: the $1 million mark. Yet it was just another fun day at the office. "It certainly wasn't this epic milestone that we always dreamt about," said Griffin. "It's the day-to-day excitement that's the reward. Maybe if somebody came to the door with a plaque or something I would think it's a big deal."

Griffin always had an itch to be an inventor -- but no idea he would become one. At first he took the traditional-career route. After graduating from Ball State University with degrees in urban and regional planning, environmental design, and economics, he got a job as an urban planner in Bloomington, Ind.

"It was in an office environment that was sort of political and the kind you see on TV with cubes and all," said Griffin.

Meeting and marrying a chef -- Emily Griffin, now Baker's Edge's pastry chef -- was kismet. Emily's father helps by processing orders. In 2004, they peddled a prototype pan at trade shows but lacked enough capital to manufacture more.

An advertisement on MTV -- for a small-business contest hosted by Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and VISA (V, Fortune 500) -- caught their eye. Their "corny video" application, said Griffin, won them $25,000 in seed money. "We used that money, and the exposure, as leverage and to find a local bank to give us a line of credit," he said. Next they set up a manufacturing agreement with a factory in China.

That was actually the company's biggest mistake.

"We realized the 12-week lead was really hurting us. It would take eight to nine weeks to make its way across the ocean, get stuck in customs and then make its way to us," said Griffin. The pans are now manufactured near Minneapolis; Bakers Edge boasts a seven-day turnaround for orders.

"They actually hired some additional folks last year to add another line. We've played a good role in building up that manufacturing role in America." They are sold through 15 catalogue companies, as well as several specialty cooking stores and 300 stores throughout the United States, Australia and England.

By the fall of 2009 Baker's Edge added a second product, Simple Lasagna Pan ($49.95), which -- yep, you guessed it -- bakes corner portions of lasagna.

Gale Gand, a Chicago pastry chef and cookbook author, knows the challenges in launching bakeware. In 2003, she developed a line of bakeware sold at Macy's stores and through Home Shopping Network. In fact, she recalls receiving an early prototype of Baker's Edge's brownie pan.

"It's something people want -- they're always fighting over the edge pieces. It's a great solution to a problem we didn't even realize we had," said Gand.

Indeed, that's why Oprah named both Baker's Edge pans among her favorite things in 2010.

But despite all the recent growth, Griffin has no desire to grow the company further. In fact, he says, putting the pans in Target (TGT, Fortune 500) stores, for example, would require a lot of revamping. Right now -- because the company is small -- he has a tight grip on the brand, which allows him to remain close to his roots in Indiana.

"We have family in the area and three little kids," said Griffin. "I grew up working on a farm -- way before that term was 'mainstream' -- and really believe hard work and determination is all it takes. You can pretty much accomplish anything with nothing." To top of page

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