The Appalachian Region boasts natural, year-round beauty, hardworking individuals and unique cuisine.
Whether homemade or at a local restaurant, enjoying a familiar meal has the ability to transform you back to your childhood.
The sweet taste of apple butter at your grandmother’s house, a bite of buckwheat cake at the county fair, the smell of ramps as you walk through the kitchen door after school, your favorite pepperoni roll from the bakery down the street and that first piece of watermelon as you welcome summer.
Born and raised in Hagerstown, Maryland, Mallory Moholt, a marketing alumna of the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, had an early connection to food.
Moholt joined the military after high school and ended up getting a scholarship through West Virginia University’s Army ROTC program.
Growing up with entrepreneurs in her family, she knew she wanted to go into business. From hospitality and tourism to global supply chain management, she landed on a major in marketing after learning more about advertising and consumer trends. And she never looked back.
“My family was in the produce business in Maryland,” Moholt said. “My dad sold produce and I would spend time with him in the summer and watch him work. I didn’t know much about it as a child, but I knew the basics from watching him. I knew how to set it up, I knew we needed good products and I knew we needed a great location. Those are the same three steps that I took when started my own produce business.”
Her business, Mal’s Fresh Produce, started out simple and it stuck. She was delivering fresh produce to locals who fell in love with going back to the basics.
“Now that I have started my own business, it has been really cool to use even the basics of marketing to reach customers. We really use the basics of marketing – a very traditional sense – and that is what has made us successful in the community,” Moholt said.
Whether sweet or savory, Mal’s Fresh Produce was showing locals that knowing where their produce came from made them appreciate it more.
“I graduated in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and I didn’t know what to do,” Moholt said. “Businesses were shutting down and since we weren’t going into storefronts, I noticed people weren’t shopping like they used to. I started seeing everyone around me start to understand how important fresh produce was. I immediately thought, I know where to get fresh fruit and vegetables because we live in the tri-state area where it’s produced, and I could really do this for a job.”
While only available for a short period of time, fresh produce is available and it reminded Moholt of all of the beautiful things that can be grown in the area.
Growing something new from nothing is what business is all about.- Mallory Moholt
From Stand to Storefront
Starting something new is often scary, but Moholt was inspired and started selling fresh fruit and vegetables at a stand near Morgantown’s Pierpont Centre.
“Growing something new from nothing is what business is all about,” she said. “I started my business with a quality pop-up canopy for $350 because I wanted it to look nicer than your typical yard sale tent. I already had a couple of tables to use, but I found more around town after students graduated and moved out of their apartments. I bought a scale for about $150 and a small lockbox from Walmart to keep money in. I only had probably $1,000 left to spend on produce to buy and I had to flip that so I could buy the next load of produce. Then, it just took off from there. I started meeting a lot of vendors and going to the Amish auctions in the area to get a plan on how I could keep selling produce.”
As a young woman fresh out of college, Moholt knew that if she wanted to be taken seriously she had to put in the extra time and effort to run a business.
“I knew I had to build relationships with farmers so that I could meet different price breaks on bulk purchases,” she said. “It’s a lot of negotiating, but I will buy a lot of something at once knowing that I’m able to sell it. I’ve ordered over 300 dozen ears of corn a week and up to 125 half bushels of peaches, and I hope to double those numbers one day.”
Moholt’s produce comes from local farms within a 60-mile radius of Morgantown. Once produce is chosen, it’s brought to the store and organized to sell.
Weeks and months went by, and she was still providing the most sought-after produce in town. That’s when she knew that her dreams to expand were well within her reach.
“Within two weeks of opening up the produce stand, I started telling everyone that I was going to have a store in Cheat Lake,” Moholt said. “I knew that there was a demand for it and it would provide more than just produce – it would also sell meat, eggs, canned items, plants and even have an area for a greenhouse where I could start growing our own items.”
That next year, Moholt worked on creating a space from the ground up on Old Cheat Road. From dirt floors and a couple of refrigerators, she was able to invest the money back into the store to make it bigger and better.
“I found an affordable area that made sense for my business, but I knew it could be better. I invested the money that first year at the stand to build out the store the second year.”
Moholt worked hard and made smart business decisions, and she made them fast.
“I had to figure out where I was going to put the money, and what was going to be the most efficient and most profitable purchase for the store,” she said. “For the first two years, I didn’t have a forklift, so everything was unloaded off of the trucks by hand; sometimes more than 300 watermelon and cantaloupe at a time.”
In Spring 2022 – after making renovations to the store – her dream came true.
Mal’s Fresh Produce, just as she had envisioned it – with walls and floors, and even a greenhouse – came to life.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (but closed for the winter months), Moholt’s drive to keep going comes from the high demand of fresh food.
“I didn’t know how to install insulation or pour concrete but I made phone calls and researched those who did. It wasn’t easy. There were kinks to work out, but that’s what running a business is all about. It’s dealing with a setback and moving forward.
“There was a time when I wasn’t even sure what to name my business, but my friends encouraged me to name it after myself because I was making those organic connections with my customers and they started looking for me as they came into town – the blonde girl at the produce stand.”
She still sells from her stands from time to time to reach more customers, but her store holds seasonal fruit and vegetables, eggs, meat, seafood, plants and even her branded canned goods such as apple butter, peach preserves, salad dressing and salsa.
Moholt said her best-selling products include peaches, sweet corn and tomatoes.
However, people love trying new food products and ingredients, and she has seen repeat customers who come back for the canned goods.
“It was an incredible experience for the store to get into private label and it has been a huge marketing push for us, too, being able to show people the product or letting them taste it when they come in.”
Take a Bite Out of Life
Mal’s Fresh Produce is not only a busy store six months out of the year, but it also has a large Instagram following with more than 4,000 followers year-round.
“When I started building an Instagram page, I would search for local Morgantown businesses that I knew and follow them online and connect with them in person,” Moholt said. “What made the account stand out was that customers would come up to me and say that they ate the best cantaloupe of their entire life after I sold it to them, and I would ask them if they could say it again while I filmed them for social media.”
Moholt admits it’s no secret that she took the skills she learned in the classroom to market Mal’s Fresh Produce.
“WVU feels different to me now that I graduated and I have a successful business here in Morgantown – it’s really special to me,” she said. “I learned a lot in college, but at the same time I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do as a career. There are so many resources at WVU, especially within the Chambers College, that it makes me wish I would have started my business even as a student."
Professors and friends within WVU’s Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab, answered Moholt’s questions about entrepreneurship and supported her endeavors.
“There are so many students on campus who could start their own business if they just believe in themselves and take that first step.”
This past fall, Moholt had the opportunity to go back on campus, but this time, as a businesswoman selling her produce during the student farmers markets held on WVU’s downtown campus outside the Mountainlair.
Not only did she connect with students, but President E. Gordon Gee also congratulated her on her business success and thanked her for being a part of the market.
Although her store has seen success, Moholt is dreaming of new ideas each and every day.
“Mal’s Fresh Produce could become anything,” Moholt said. “It could remain a store, or it could be a food truck or a whole warehouse full of produce for wholesale for all of our local restaurants.”
In the future, Moholt said Mal’s Fresh Produce plans to join other farmers’ markets in town, as well as in Fairmont and Bridgeport.
She also aims to continue tightening up her business and hopes to provide an even better experience for the Morgantown community and surrounding area.
“I feel so blessed to be where I am in my life right now,” Moholt said. “My name is on the sign and it was just me making the decisions and putting in the work for a long time, but I hope to hire employees to not only help me manage the business side, but to also work with me on community outreach.”
When she’s not working, Moholt enjoys traveling outside of the country to relax on the beach and explore different cultures.
“I’ve connected with some really wonderful people and I’ve tasted a lot of great food,” Moholt said. “I love traveling because it’s a time when I can relax, but I’m also able to gather a lot of inspiration, creativity and motivation to start my next season at the store.”
As her customers anxiously await the spring opening of the store, Moholt is already behind the curtain planning something bigger and better – and more delicious.