11 Sep Holiday cheese tradition becomes food startup with help of Kitchen 66
Split Log Farms aims for retail market
By Chloe Moores Tulsa World
Robert Little has turned his childhood cheese memories into full-fledged business with the help of Kitchen 66.
During the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, Little would deliver logs of smoked cheddar to neighbors and friends at his mother’s side.
“All these people would go, ‘Oh, Anne, you should sell this, this is so good,’ because they would look forward to it every year,” Little said.
Little continued the cheese delivery tradition until his neighbor encouraged him to apply at Kitchen 66. The nonprofit founded in 2015 by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation provides Tulsa food entrepreneurs with the tools they need to be successful, such as a commercial kitchen space, business training and sales resources.
As an airplane mechanic, Little worked afternoons and found it difficult to apply to Kitchen 66’s four-month-long Launch 1.0 class. But in January, when his schedule permitted it, Little applied.
Of 70 applicants, he was one of 10 who were accepted.
“The scariest part was taking that first step and doing it,” Little said.
Kitchen 66 helped guide Little through the obstacles of purchasing food insurance, permits and working with the Tulsa Health Department.
Adele Beasley, the program director of Kitchen 66, said Little’s contagious optimism and passion for food made him stand out from other students.
“His cheese business is so unique, and really he has a product that has developed so many loyal followers … but even more, it’s Robert and his spirit that has led the company and really contributed so much to Tulsa,” she said.
Little’s son, Saxon Little, and college roommate, Randy Ramer, are co-owners of the family cheese business, now called Split Log Farms — after his great-grandfather Mathias Splitlog.
“Our eventual goal is probably to get in every household in America,” he said.
The Split Log Farms trio took the original smoked cheddar recipe from Little’s grandfather Eugene Fingerlin and modified it to suit other ingredients, Ramer said.
The business now manufactures five cheeses — HOSS-radish, jalapeño, cranberry, habanero, which is a “mighty hot cheese,” and of course, smoked cheddar.
Each cheese is pressed into an 8-ounce roll, wrapped in butcher paper and sealed with a Split Log Farms black and orange sticker. The creamy rolls can be spread on toast, crackers, melted into scrambled eggs or help kick a pot of mac and cheese up a notch.
Little chats excitedly with customers while selling his stock and describing ways the cheese can be used.
“It’s almost like an adrenaline rush for me to meet people because I love people — and then you get to offer them something they are happy with and excited with and they can go home and enjoy it with friends and family,” Little said.
The next stop for Split Log farms is retail.
Little has applied for Kitchen 66’s 2.0 program, which will help him attain a UPC code for his cheeses and sell them in stores.
The “phenomenal” response of the community to the cheese has increased Little’s confidence and made him wish he had the guts to start the business when he was in college with Ramer.
“When you’re in college, you think you can do something to change the world, and then once you’ve lived something of life you realize sometimes it’s just about doing something that makes other people happy,” Ramer said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with this. We say that all the time to each other, ‘Let’s have fun.’ ”
Little’s mother passed away a few years ago while living with him, but Little hopes the business honors his mother’s memory.
“We’ve given it to people who used to get it from her, and they say, ‘Oh, you made your mom’s cheese,’ so they are kind of excited to get it,” he said. “It hasn’t faded away.”
His partner agrees.
“I think his mom would have loved it, which is important to us,” Ramer said. “I think she would be really impressed, and every time we work on this we think about what she would say because she always said people loved it — and she was right.”