Friday, August 16, 2013

Taking a party appetizer national - By Michelle Libby

Fate handed Shelly Afthim a boatload of troubles starting in 2006, but she didn’t make lemonade as the saying goes, she made meatballs in flavors like chicken cordon bleu, chicken parmesan and buffalo chicken gorgonzola. Each meatball was homemade white meat chicken, neither breaded nor fried. She decided that just sharing with her friends wasn’t enough. She sent a letter to QVC to have her meatballs featured there.

Once a year, the Afthim’s throw a party for their friends. The featured item and the food that went first every year were the meatballs. Creating from a modified recipe from her mother, she used chicken, cheese and spices. Each year she added a new flavor.

“Last year I made 1,500 meatballs for 120 people. They were the first things to go,” she said. Her children, going into fifth and seventh grades, are picky eaters, she said. “They gobble them up.” She said it’s the way they are presented that’s different. A few meatballs make a healthy snack.

In 2006, Shelly and her husband moved their family back to Maine, but within a few weeks, she was not feeling well. She drove herself to Mercy Hospital when she couldn’t catch her breath. The doctors told her she was in congestive heart failure at 35 years old. She had Lyme disease and it had affected her heart and her brain.

“I was borderline needing a heart transplant,” Afthim said. She had a defibrillator implanted and then when things were looking up, it was recalled. In 2008 she went on permanent disability.

For the last year, she has been working, with the encouragement of her husband, Phil, to bring her meatballs to market under her new business name Gourmet Passionista. 

A year ago, Afthim contacted QVC about becoming a vendor. She had no company and yet they asked for samples.

She sent them the week before Christmas and within two weeks she was on a conference call…they wanted her meatballs.

“That’s my personality. I’m not afraid of the word ‘no’. I went to the top and it worked out,” she said. Tenacity is the word she uses to describe herself. “I want to inspire people. They don’t have to be labeled disabled. They just need to find a way to figure out a different path in life,” Afthim said.

She will be in the Sprouts program for new businesses and her first order for QVC is $10,000. They plan to sell the product for $40 for a bag of 24 – 1 ounce balls.

Her biggest challenge was getting her labels past the USDA. It took one year to get the label approved. She also hired a manufacturer in Bangor so she will no longer have to make them at home, unless she wants to. She is continuing to sample new flavors and hopes her next meatball will be southern barbeque, bacon and cheddar.

Finding the meatballs right now might pose a challenge, but Afthim hopes to have a website up and running soon. She is also on to raise money to produce her first order.

“When someone tries them for the first time, they pause to look down at their plate to see what they are eating. That’s fun,” Afthim said.

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