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VP's wife Karen Pence visits Grey Ghost Bakery's new production facility in West Ashley

Grey Ghost Bakery is best known in the Charleston area for its cookies in flavors such as lemon sugar and molasses spice, packed in attractive plastic cylinders and paper boxes. But when Karen Pence visited the bakery’s new production facility in West Ashley on Tuesday to publicize her support for businesses owned by military spouses, she reached for a pumpkin roll slice first.

“I need to sample some of this stuff, don’t I?” the wife of Vice President Mike Pence said after Grey Ghost’s Katherine Frankstone ushered her toward a table arranged for a kaffeeklatsch photo op.

Pence, whose name is frequently Googled in conjunction with the terms “weight loss” and “makeover,” initially hesitated, but put a few cookies and the cream-filled roll on her plate with Frankstone’s encouragement. She then made sure to request “a little hand wash” before tasting.

“I’m not a big pumpkin fan but this is phenomenal,” Pence ruled. “Really delicious.”

The pumpkin rolls originated with Rhonda Rawlins, a friend of Grey Ghost's fractional chief operating officer; she previously worked for a company which last year was bought by Kind Bar. At the end of 2019, Kind decided to scrub all of the gluten from the factory it had purchased, which meant it would no longer supply Rawlins’ pumpkin rolls to supermarkets.

“The customers were scrambling,” Frankstone said. “We purchased some equipment and recipes and got the customer relationships along with the assets and intellectual property. So we diversified into a new distribution channel in 2020 even as we continue to grow our cookie sales.”

In other words, the business stories that Frankstone and her husband, Manning, a Vietnam veteran, shared with Pence were rich in both ups and downs.

“Have you been able to take advantage of anything the government is offering?” Pence prompted. “This pandemic is a terrible thing, but it’s nice to know there is a little bit of a silver lining that keeps you from going under.”

According to Small Business Administration's South Carolina District Director R. Gregg White, who participated in the event, Grey Ghost received Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan loans.

Still, Frankstone stressed the uncertainty that has been a constant since the start of the pandemic. “First we thought we’d have a bakery school, and then we thought it would be a super-spreader event,” Frankstone said wryly. Pence, who has publicly backed her husband’s stance on reopening schools, didn’t respond.

Richardine White, a Grey Ghost employee, didn’t stop bagging lemon sugar cookies while Pence toured the facility. “We’re slammed,” said White, who at 73 calls herself the “oldest old lady in the shop.” Over the hum of a cookie cutter, White explained that the bakery is staying busy with cupcakes, pound cakes and pumpkin rolls.

“Didn’t I tell you these cookies are not going to bag themselves?” she called to a co-worker distracted by Pence’s gaggle.

White was ready to go home. She’d been working since 6 a.m.

With so many orders to fill, Manning Frankstone said they shelved plans to open a small retail area in the front of the Wappoo Road facility, which they officially occupied two weeks ago. But they’re orchestrating curbside pick-up of “scratch and dent” items deemed “not pretty enough to ship.”

Those items will be offered for sale via Grey Ghost’s Facebook page starting Wednesday. The first two featured pastries are five-flavor pound cakes and pumpkin rolls.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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