Gabby Griffin uses one word to describe the reason behind her entrepreneurial success and that word is passion. The 17-year-old has become the sole distributor of tortillas on the Gulf Coast, and has expanded her business successfully, all before finishing her freshman year in college. The young entrepreneur is entering her second year studying culinary arts at Faulkner State Community College, an opportunity she earned through a full scholarship awarded by LuLu’s Restaurant in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
In the fall of 2012, Griffin applied to her local Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) offered by the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce.
“YEA! is a groundbreaking program that teaches middle and high school students how to make a job, not just take a job,” Gayle Jagel, CEO and founder of YEA! said.
Throughout the class, students develop business ideas, write business plans, conduct market research, pitch their plans to a panel of investors for startup funds, and actually launch and run their own legal, fully formed companies and social movements. Griffin embraced this opportunity, and Gabby’s Tortillas was born–a company producing authentic tortillas that are made to order.
Upon graduating from YEA!, she was offered many business opportunities, and her tortillas became a local hit. Griffin sold her tortillas at farmers’ markets on the weekends, and restaurants began lining up to purchase her tortillas, recipes were created using the famed ingredient, and soon the tortillas became a cultural influence, inspiring the creation of new menu items locally. The Baumhower Restaurant in Orange Beach has added “Gabby’s Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas” to its appetizer menu, leading customers to the young entrepreneur’s website. It became clear to Gabby that she would need the help of her family to sustain the demand.
“It has definitely brought my family and I closer together,” Griffin said. “I have an older brother in the National Guard who works the farmer’s market for me when he’s on leave, and my younger brother even helps out with whatever I need. We’ve never been this close before, and so I’m thankful that my business can provide a way for us all to work together.”
Griffin has two younger sisters who are excited about business as well. Griffin has helped them create their own lemonade stand, has taught them how to count money, how to market the product, and how to best service their customers. Griffin learned all of these skills and more while participating in the YEA! program, and admits that YEA! gave her the self-confidence she needed to start her own business.
“Everything you gain and learn from the YEA! program will be used over and over again in all aspects of the business world, as well as in school. Every student should have the opportunity to attend YEA!—it will change your life. I know it changed mine.”
What does the future look like for Gabby’s Tortillas? Griffin said that her dream is to operate her own tortilla factory, and distribute her products nationwide—a dream not too far from reality. The process has begun to open a tortilla and tamale factory in Robertsdale, Alabama the first of the year. She added that she will use her newly acquired culinary skills to enhance the original tortilla recipe, all the while offering her guidance and mentorship to aspiring young entrepreneurs. Griffin expects to earn her Associates Degree in Culinary Arts within the next year, at just 18 years old.
For middle and high school students interested in applying to their local YEA! program, go to www.yeausa.org.