What drives a person out of their kitchen to fight for space on a store shelf?
Pour yourself a Bloody Mary and let Bruce Julian, owner of a Charlotte clothing store, tell you:
“We believe in it. We totally believe it’s going to happen. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that it’s going to be a hit, a national hit.”
And it takes that, that almost fanatical belief, to drive anyone into the long hours, frustration and luck required to make a successful food product.
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For Melanie Tritten, the dream drives her and her husband, Andy, to work multiple full-time jobs – hers as a controller for seven Charlotte restaurants, his as a server at Wolfgang Puck Pizza and theirs as the makers of Cannizzaro Famiglia marinara and arrabbiata tomato sauces.
Her sauce story is a little different: She grew up in an Italian family, the Cannizzaros, but her mother made lousy sauce.
She was a great cook, Tritten says, but she was raising three kids in upstate New York.
“She was busy and she wouldn’t deseed the tomatoes. We used to make her buy us Prego, Ragu, anything new on the market.”
Starting in college, Tritten spent 20 years coming up with a sauce she loves so much, she’s devoting her life to it.
The Trittens work two farmers markets on Saturdays, Melanie at Atherton Market, Andy at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. They deliver sauce to stores, including both Common Markets and Pasta & Provisions. And they spend Sundays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. making more sauce in space they use at Bonterra Restaurant.
“We hope it might become a full-time job someday,” she says. “We have high aspirations.”
Bruce Julian’s Bloody Mary Mix came out of a trademark at his men’s clothing store, Bruce Julian Clothier (now at the Arboretum but moving to 2913 Selwyn Ave. soon). Julian is famous for touches like the bar in the back of his store.
He worked so long to perfect his Bloody Mary that his wife, Bonnie, decided the mix had to go national. Her background is in textile marketing, but she and her partner, Paul Rayvin, left the business to start Bevs & Bites.
They started in May and they already have it in 61 stores and restaurants along the East Coast, including all over Charlotte. They’ve added novelty packaging like flasks and additional products, including pickled okra and “rimmer” for dipping glasses.
So how do you do it? How do you take a dream from the kitchen to a business? Here’s one way to find out: Blue Ridge Food Ventures in Candler, near Asheville, is a food-production facility that helps people do this kind of thing.
Supported by a variety of grants, they help small-batch, all-natural or artisan food companies figure it out. Director Chris Reedy calls it “the on-ramp from concept to market.”
You can learn more at a two-day program Nov. 6-7, “The Biz Behind the Food Biz,” designed for food startups. It’s $375, and you can register at www.ashevilleprofessionalstudies.com.
In the end, though, is all the work worth it?
“I’ve screamed a couple of times,” Bonnie Julian admits. “Every other day, it’s ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ ” But earlier this week in New York, she walked into the busy restaurant Balthazar and saw bartenders using Bruce’s mix.
“And you go, ‘wow.’ ”