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Monday, November 11, 2013

Bottling a Dream

From the Canning Jars Dept.: As we finish up putting up that which we grew and recombobulated, how about that dream of bringing your product to market? Here’s my survey from a few years ago of some folks who did just that.


BRINGING A CULINARY CREATION to market is the dream of anyone who’s ever been praised for a particular preparation. But what motivates someone to take the risky and costly steps to bring such a product to market?

Tim Lane at the (now shuttered)
Glen Country Store.
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“I have three children,” says Delmar resident Caroline Barrett. “After my youngest was born, I decided I wanted to be able to stay home and spend more time with them.” She left a career as a graphic designer to begin what started as a home-based business inspired by her love of food.

“I looked at what I like to make, and what makes people happy. My spicy maple almonds have always been popular with my friends, so I put some packages of them together and took them to the small farmers’ market that used to be at Indian Ladder Farms. They sold well, so next I went to Delmar Marketplace – I walked in there with my three kids and sold them my product.”

Six years later, she and her husband Paul now operate Our Daily Eats as a full-time job, offering a line of nine different nut preparations along with pumpkin seeds and granola. The items are sold in stores from Florida to Maine, but it remains a two-person operation.

Maria Gandara tells a similar story. “I was having my second child and didn’t want to be in the workfield any more. I wanted to try to make money doing something for myself, so I asked a friend of mine for advice. She said, ‘You make the best pesto I’ve ever tasted – why don’t you package and sell it?’ My husband said, ‘Give it a try,’ so I made a batch, my husband made some labels, I took about a dozen containers of pesto to various markets and it sold out. And when I called to follow up, they all said, ‘We love it – when can we get more?’”

Thus was Buddhapesto born, based near Woodstock, and over the course of seven years, “it’s become a full-time job for me and my husband – it became full time after the first year.”

Even a well-established chef faces similar hurdles. A. J. Jayapal has helmed the kitchen at Albany Pump Station, Jack’s Oyster House and, currently, Panza’s at the Normanside Country Club. “I’ve always made marinades,” he says. “I’ve done it for my family for years, and I made it in the restaurants. But I didn’t think anyone would buy a bottled version. And I didn’t even know if I could make it. I’m terrible at measuring – when I’m cooking, I just grab a handful of this and that.

He went on to put a year’s worth of research into standardizing his recipe and ingredients, learning how to make a marketable marinade without using preservatives. Now his product line, “Miss Sydney’s Secret Family Recipes,” also offers a hot sauce and an authentic Indian chutney

“When I decided to try to market my marinade, it became a whole different ballgame. Because this was going to go on market shelves, I had to go to Cornell to find out how to make it stable. And I learned, for instance, that all the spices had to have the same pH. This was all very humbling for me.”

For Tim Lane, it was a career shift born of the moment – in this case, the moment that Rock Hill Bakery pulled out of a farmers’ market in Albany. “I was there selling lettuce,” says Lane, “and saw a demand for bread. So I started baking.”

He found the ovens and kitchen space he needed by working off-hours in a country store in his home town of Glen, in Montgomery Country. Four years later the store’s owner decided to give up the business, and Lane took over as proprietor as well, which he now has been doing for nearly two years. Meanwhile, he produces close to 300 loaves per week, the bulk of them sold at farmer’s markets in Delmar, Palatine, Gloversville and Amsterdam.

“And I have to sell it,” he says. “Once it’s a couple days old, I don’t dare try to offer it. There are no preservatives, and I don’t want my customers to buy anything that isn’t absolutely fresh. Do you need any two-days-old bread?”

Surplus product was a problem for Derek Grout at Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie. He is one of three brothers running a third-generation apple orchard, and was faced with a drastic loss of juice sales to big companies like Dole and Veryfine, who now buy frozen imported concentrate.

“I was inspired by the work of Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee at Tuthilltown Spirits,” he says, referring to a farm distillery near New Paltz known for its bourbon and vodka. “After seeing them, we decided in 2006 to look at the concept of a similar distillery, and we spent a lot of time researching and experimenting. In May 2008, we released our first batch of apple vodka, and sales have been growing steadily ever since.”

The distillery is called Harvest Spirits, and at the heart of their operation is a 100-gallon electric still located in a former cold storage room at the they orchard. As for regulations, they had to have much of their licensing in place before even buying the hardware. “There are both federal and state regulations we have to follow,” says Grout, “but New York has had some progressive legislation recently that makes it easier for us to sell directly to consumers.”

Product distribution is a challenge to everyone with small-batch products to sell. Placing them with large existing distributors can cut deeply into profit, so most prefer to get the product out themselves.

“I like to know our customers,” says Barrett. “I enjoy talking to them at the farmers’ markets.” What started as a kind of side venture turned all the more serious when her husband was laid off from a job at IBM. “We decided that things like that happen for a reason, so we dove into it with both feet.” They have now built a small commercial kitchen for their nut-making business, and it’s paying off. And giving them all that much more time together as a family.

Jayapal also has his family involved, making the marinade and sauces in the Delmar space he uses for production. “The chutney is my mother’s recipe,” he explains, “and we named the hot sauce ‘Earthquake Eddie’s’ after my wife’s grandfather, who was a spitfire in the family.”

“I’m a mother first and a business woman second,” says Buddhapesto’s Gandara, “and I’m still in awe that it supports us. People tell us that our pesto is a staple in their kitchens. I love feeding people and making them happy.”

As for the health regulations, “We have a separate kitchen for the pesto that’s Ag and Markets approved. I told them I wanted to do and they told me what I needed to have. We redid the kitchen so it’s all stainless steel, got our machines and cooler approved, and put in a three-bay sink. We triple-wash the basil and parsley, so we had to get the water approved, too.”

Tim Lane was fortunate to be working in a kitchen that already had the needed approval, and, now that he’s also the storekeeper, he’s often on hand to get to know the local customers and what they’d like him to prepare. His bread styles range from traditional Italian and wheat loaves to multi-grain, focaccia and cranberry-walnut bread, and he works alongside another baker, Tracie Soper, who left a career in human services to return to the kitchen, her first love.

But the regulations for store-based baking differ from what the farmers’ markets require. “Everything at the market has to be made from scratch,” says Lane. “If you make a pie, you have to make that crust from scratch. Now, I don’t have to grow my own wheat for the bread, but I pretty much have to do everything else.”

All of these products tend to cost more than their mass-produced equivalents, but they’ve found steady customers. “It’s the cachet of a local product,” says Grout, “something you can’t find anywhere else.”

“It’s the same as asking, ‘Do I buy this free-range chicken or not?’” says Jayapal. “The payoff is in the product.”

Metroland Magazine, 23 September 2010

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