By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jul 14, 2014 at 11:02 AM

On Thursday, July 17, at noon, six finalists in both the Start-up and Early Stage business categories from the 2014 Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur Challenge will face off in a Food Network-style judging event at MATC’s student-operated 6th Street Café, 1015 N. 6th St., on the Downtown Milwaukee Campus.

Judges for this year’s competition include Kurt Fogle, executive pastry chef from SURG Restaurant Group, Jan Kelly, owner and chef of Meritage restaurant, Angela West, co-founder and publisher of Alcoholmanac Magazine, Lynn Sbonik, co-owner of Beans & Barley Deli, Market & Full Service Café, Eric Olesen, co-owner and president of O&H Danish Bakery of Racine, Jen Ede, publisher of Edible Milwaukee magazine, Daphne Jones, owner of Glorious Malone's Fine Sausages and Rakesh (Ryan) Rehan, owner of Café India.

The grand prize winner in each category will receive $2,000 in seed money from Reliable Water Services to start their business; comprehensive entrepreneurial consultation package from MATC; a private meeting with food industry executives serving on FaB Wisconsin’s advisory council and funding and growth consultation with financial specialists at MW Growth Partners.

Start-up finalists include:

Top Note Tonics
This new beverage concept hatched by Milwaukeean Mary Pellettieri includes non-alcoholic aperitivo sodas featuring top note flavors such as lemon, orange, vanilla, clove and ginger. The beverages are meant to be sipped as stand-alone sodas or blended with spirits. The goal is to see Top Note Tonic on high-end restaurant menus as well as having it packaged as a carbonated soft drink. Read more in our feature on Top Note Tonics.

Packaged European Buttercream
This frosting company, owned by Jennifer Goldbeck of Cedarburg, is hoping to create a delicious shelf-stable delicious vanilla buttercream unlike any other canned frosting found in the grocery aisle. The goal is to create a packaged product that is easy and quick for the home baker to reproduce and customize.

Wilhemena’s Pies
Owned by Nicole Meredith of Milwaukee, this company produces handcrafted gourmet pecan pies in original flavors such as Great Lakes Distillery’s Kinnickinnic whiskey, Butterfinger pecan pie and coffee pecan pie. The goal is to sell at farmer’s markets, sell online and eventually own a food truck dedicated to selling pies throughout the greater Milwaukee area.

Early stage finalists are:

Love Dust
This line of international spice blends is produced by Jackie Valent Lucca, owner of the Globaco food truck. The products are MSG and gluten free with no artificial ingredients. The blends, which are accessible to both the novice cook and the experienced foodie are meant to add global flair to everyday cooking. Challenges include determining how to launch the product and distribute to local and regional outlets as well as marketing the product with limited funds.

Wisco Pop!
Owners Austin Ashley, Hallie Ashley and Zac Mathes produce craft brewed soda featuring fresh fruit juice, pure Wisco honey and genuine herbs and spices. Offered in three distinct flavors -- Ginger Brew, Door County Cherry Bomb, and Root Beer – the Wisconsin sodas are available in 40 locations throughout Viroqua, Madison, and Milwaukee. Challenges include meeting single serve demand and increasing production capacity.

PoSaNa Organics
Robyn Wright of Dousman sells organic, gluten-free cooking and baking mixes using nutrient-dense almond and coconut flours. Offering unique, healthy, and delicious bakery items such as Deep Chocolate Almond Flour Cupcakes (sweetened with pure maple syrup) with Rishi Masala Chai-infused butter cream frosting. Challenges include securing funding for working capital, expansion into co-packing, and labor costs for the new bakery division.

The Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur Challenge is an effort to find and support Milwaukee’s next great start-up and early stage food entrepreneurs. The event is sponsored by Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Reliable Water Services, a local provider of commercial water heaters, boilers and water softeners, and FaB Wisconsin, an industry network for the food and beverage cluster in Wisconsin.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.