Marquita and Deven Carter, Co-founders, Blanket Pancakes & Syrup.
Marquita and Deven Carter, CEO and COO of Blanket Pancakes & Syrup, built a successful business not only as co-founders, but also as husband and wife. — Blanket Pancakes & Syrup

Why it matters:

  • The breakfast foods market is in a growth spurt, with sales projected to grow by more than 6% annually through 2030.
  • The pancake mix subcategory is expected to grow by 5.42% annually over the next five years, to $712 million by 2028.
  • Blanket Pancakes & Syrups has had to think creatively to overcome the hurdles Black-owned businesses face in securing credit and raising capital, making the leap into big retailers like Walmart and Costco despite those challenges.

Marquita and Deven Carter were looking for healthier ways to enjoy one of their favorite meals – pancakes with syrup. Along the way, they also came up with a winning recipe for taking a mom-and-pop business into the big leagues.

Their company, Blanket Pancakes & Syrup, went from handing out samples at farmers markets to generating $1 million in sales, and taking orders from Walmart, Costco, and top grocery chains in less than five years.

Their secret, the Carters told CO—, was thinking bigger, even when their North Carolina-based company was very small.

Blanket Pancakes & Syrup Co-founder: ‘If you see yourself as just a mom-and-pop operation, you’re going to limit yourself’

When they were starting out, with just the two of them working for the business, Marquita full-time and Deven part-time while he kept his day job, “We handled the business as if we had employees already,” Marquita said. They spelled out their company culture and created manuals for departments like marketing and operations, even when Marquita was the entire marketing department and Deven was the entire operations department.

“When we started the company, we saw bigger and we treated it as such,” said Marquita, Blanket’s CEO.

“If you see yourself as just a mom-and-pop operation, you’re going to limit yourself,” said Deven, Chief Operating Officer.

The company now is looking to take a leap into broader distribution, and is seeking investors in a variety of ways, including a crowdsourcing effort.

The idea for Blanket was generated in 2016, when Marquita, in a high-risk pregnancy with their second child, had to avoid foods with artificial ingredients. She didn’t want to give up her favorite pancakes and syrup breakfasts, so she created homemade versions using natural ingredients – or as Marquita describes them, “things my body could recognize.”

The homemade versions were free of preservatives, artificial colors, and ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.

The Carters kept using their homemade versions even after their second son was born and began sharing them with relatives.

“We realized we had something when the families tasted it and said ‘This is not all natural – you’ve got to be kidding,’” Deven said.

[Read: How Companies Are Monetizing Consumer Demand for Street Food From Around the World]

Blanket Pancakes & Syrup went from handing out samples at farmers markets to generating $1 million in sales, and taking orders from Walmart, Costco, and top grocery chains in less than five years.

From selling pancake syrup at farmers markets to landing on the shelves of Walmart and Food Lion

After working for more than a year to research and develop their products, they began by selling the syrups without the pancakes at local farmers markets.

Customer demand led them to begin selling their homemade pancake mixes as well.

They chose their business name to convey the words most people think of when they hear the word “blanket” – cozy, warm, secure. Marquita, who previously was a special education teacher, liked the sense of safety associated with a favorite blanket.

“We want you to feel covered. We want you to feel warmth and joy when you taste Blanket,” she said.

Word of mouth from the farmers markets led to orders from local food stores and an appearance on a North Carolina television station, which in turn sparked interest from larger grocery chains and other retailers.

Restaurant chains and retailers approached the Carters about making private-label versions of the products, “which opened our eyes to truly how far we can take this.”

The couple began taking the products to food shows and contacting grocery chains, and got its first big break with an order from regional grocery chain Food Lion to sell Blanket products in 500 stores.

In 2021 they pitched Blanket products at a Walmart open call and got an order from Walmart to sell Blanket mixes and syrups in Walmart stores in the Southeast.

They’ve also sold their products at the Giant Food, Hannaford, and other grocery chains, and at Costco. (In addition, their products are sold directly to consumers on the Blanket website, and through Amazon.)

Before landing those distribution deals, however, the Carters had to learn how to make and pack their products so they would be shelf stable for large retailers, and how to line up the infrastructure of vendors and co-packing facilities, which package and label products, that would enable them to fulfill large orders.

Facing funding hurdles common to BIPOC-owned businesses

They also ran into a problem commonly faced by Black small business owners. Even with purchase orders from a national chain like Walmart, they had trouble convincing banks to give them a line of credit that would allow them to fulfill those orders.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s Small Business Credit Survey for 2022 found that Black-owned firms were among the least likely to be fully approved for lines of credit or business loans.

Black-owned businesses also have a harder time getting venture capital investments.

Data from Crunchbase, which tracks venture capital investments, shows Black-founded startups received only 1.1% of all venture funding in 2022.

The Carters, when they couldn’t get credit, did what many Black-owned businesses do in that situation, according to the Federal Reserve Bank’s survey. They tapped into personal savings – in their case, drawing on 401K and pension plans – to get the needed capital.

Being denied credit when they landed the initial Walmart order was frustrating, the Carters said, because at that point they already had a proven track record of filling large orders for other retailers.

[Read: How Three Startups Scored Millions in Funding]

 Display of products by Blanket Pancakes & Syrup.
Beginning sales at local farmers markets, all-natural pancake mix and syrup company Blanket Pancakes & Syrup now has its products on the shelves of major retailers. — Blanket Pancakes & Syrup

Now, with over $1 million in sales in 2023, banks are much more willing to extend credit, Deven said.

The Carters this year decided to try to get their company to the next level by taking on investors in order to hire more employees, ramp up marketing, and scale to the point where they can meet the growing demand for their products.

In addition to talking to individual investors, they have launched a funding campaign on crowdfunding platform StartEngine, offering the public a chance to invest in Blanket, which is valued at $11 million on StartEngine.

Blanket, Deven said, currently is “profitable-ish,” meaning it is making money on every pancake mix and syrup it sells, but currently any profits must be invested back in the business for growth.

Lessons on working together as a married couple: ‘We had to set some ground rules’

In their journey to build the Blanket brand, the Carters have learned some key lessons about entrepreneurship and working together as a married couple, that they shared with CO—.

“When Marquita and I decided we wanted to be business partners, we had to set some ground rules and we had to discipline ourselves,” Deven said.

While Deven tends to be the leader in the household, Marquita, as the CEO and chief visionary of Blanket, has the final vote in business decisions.

At home, they try to leave business discussions in the office. If something pressing comes up when they are at home, they go into their home office and discuss it there, rather than talking about it at the dinner table or in the bedroom.

The top lessons they’ve learned as entrepreneurs, they said, are don’t be afraid to ask for help, and always talk to references when searching for vendors and other business partners. They have benefited from programs that local colleges, such as Wake Forest University, offer to small businesses, and from learning about the Entrepreneurial Operating System platform for small businesses.

As they were building the business, the Carters at times had to say no to sales opportunities if they felt they couldn’t handle the volume of orders. They are hoping that with investors they will be able to say yes to all opportunities that come their way.

“We learned fundamentally that if we focus on doing the right thing, then things are going to work out for us and it’s going to come when it’s supposed to,” Deven said.

“There is no reason why Blanket Pancakes & Syrup will not be a household name just as big as any other brand out there,” he said.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

CO— Exclusives: Insider Strategies

How the buzziest brands and hottest startups are solving today's biggest business challenges. CO— brings you advice from startup founders and top executives for thriving in a new world.