What are the chances of building a local business selling balsamic vinegar candy or beer cupcakes? Pretty slim, right?
Local entrepreneurs have found a way to launch their cooking dreams from kitchen experiments into full-fledged food businesses with the help of a crowd-source funding website called Kickstarter. Used initially by musicians, filmmakers and other starving artists, the site has grown into a place where creative cooks can find a hungry audience.
The entrepreneurs must win approval from Kickstarter.com gurus to share their idea and goals on the website. Most people post details about their projects along with incentives for donating some dough. A video of the people behind the project also is encouraged.
Once project plans are posted, the people behind the ideas sit back and wait to see if anyone shares their particular passion. If enough backers pledge their money to an idea before its deadline, the project is approved, donors are charged and the money becomes the financial kick-start.
Andrea Parrish-Geyer only had to hold her breath for half a minute before her Savor Sweets project got its first pledge. From New York.
“We actually found out that most of the people who pledged were from New York,” says Parrish-Geyer. “We also have many local supporters and we love them, but our first pledge, about 30 seconds after we finished posting, was from New York. It blew me away.”
Parrish-Geyer was hoping to raise $1,500 to help launch her gourmet candy business. She ended up with $3,711 by the time the project deadline ended on Sept. 4.
Parrish-Geyer and her husband, Peter Geyer, make unusual flavors of hard candies from all-natural ingredients. They don’t use corn syrup, chemical flavorings or preservatives, and the lollipops are wrapped and labeled with compostable packaging.
Some of the more unusual flavors include balsamic vinegar, habanero, black tea and basil. The most popular Savor Sweets flavors are salted caramel, Tiger’s Ear vanilla and baklava.
Some might remember the Geyers as the couple who financed their wedding with money they raised by collecting aluminum cans.
“We actually got 247 percent of what we asked for, which still doesn’t feel real,” she says of the candy business. “I had never before worked with poured sugar before I started making these. In fact, I looked up the instructions on the Internet for the first batches of balsamic vinegar.”
Parrish-Geyer is the daughter of a caterer, and says she’s always liked experimenting with unusual flavors. The idea behind Savor Sweets began when she started dreaming about balsamic candy, but couldn’t find any.
“I’d been at Saunders Cheese Market trying their balsamic jelly, which is awesome and very unexpected,” Parrish-Geyer says. “When I couldn’t find balsamic candy anywhere, I decided I might as well try to make it.
“So you might expect the first few tries were horrible failures, we had everything from balsamic sugar covering our kitchen to (having) our cats walk through the molten candy on the counter. They didn’t burn themselves or anything, but it was a disaster.”
Parrish-Geyer says she knew about Kickstarter because friends had used it to raise money for filmmaking projects.
“I seemed like a good fit, because it was a way to test the market, get our startup funding and protect everyone,” she says.
Jackie Mustard and Dylan Waidelich, the couple behind another successful Kickstarter campaign, call themselves Sweet and Stout. Their idea for cupcakes baked with different craft beers passed their fundraising goal for $1,700 late last week, but it just started out as dessert.
“Dylan is Irish, so he likes to do a big dinner for our friends on St. Patrick’s Day and we wanted to do something different for dessert,” Mustard says.
A Web search led them to a Guinness chocolate cake and eventually cream cheese frosting spiked with Bailey’s that they baked into cupcakes for the party. Their friends loved them.
“We had been trying to think of something that we could do together, like have a blog that is fun for both of us,” says Mustard.
“Initially, we were just going to pair different flavors of cupcakes with beer. But after we researched the Guinness cake thing, we thought, ‘Well, why can’t we just put different kinds of beer in the cake?’ ”
They started blogging about their adventures creating new flavors of beer-spiked cupcakes at www.sweetandstout.wordpress.com. Eager friends helped them test flavors as they experimented with different recipes and flavors.
Among their discoveries are ESB Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt, Maple Bacon Smoked Porter and Strawberry Cream Ale cupcakes.
They bake in their small kitchen on weekends and bring the goods into work each week. Mustard is a graphic designer at the Journal of Business, while Waidelich works as a medical assistant at Spokane Eye Clinic.
Yes, there have been some disasters, including hazelnut cupcakes that emerged from the oven looking perfect, but deflated into a little hockey puck as they cooled.
“It is good to have mistakes, because you grow from them,” Waidelich says. “You learn how to modify and things and keep going.”
It was when the couple used the Boundary Bay Sea to Ski ESB in a recipe for a chocolate sea salt and caramel concoction that they started to see potential beyond blogging. They shared the recipe with Bellingham-based Boundary Bay Brewing Co. and fans kept asking if they could order the cupcakes instead.
That was followed by another flood of response for their Cinnamon Irish Death Cupcakes, made with Quilter’s Irish Death beer from Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg.
“Everyone’s comments were like, ‘Where can we buy these?’ ” Mustard says. “Other people were like, ‘I want this now; where can I find this?’ and ‘I don’t live in Spokane, give me the recipe.’ People are demanding.”
Plans for the Sweet and Stout bakery were sealed when the couple met with the owners of Brews on Washington, a new coffee shop and pub in downtown Spokane. Owners Brett and Katie Anderson encouraged the couple to move ahead with their baking, giving them advice and offering to sell the cupcakes at their shop.
“Not that we needed a lot of convincing, but they kind of just pushed us over the edge,” Mustard says.
Although Sweet and Stout’s campaign on Kickstarter has reached its fundraising goal, there is still time to support the business. They’re offering cupcakes, vinyl stickers, pint glasses and T-shirts among the incentives for supporting them.
Find links to the Kickstarter campaign on the Sweet and Stout Web page, www.sweetandstout.wordpress.com or on their Facebook page.
They’re planning to rent a commercial kitchen for baking and hope to launch by the end of October. Oh, and they’re getting married in July. They’ll be serving their signature cupcakes instead of a traditional wedding cake.
Parrish-Geyer says they’ve received permits to begin making Savor Sweets in the kitchen at Chairs Coffee, 113 W. Indiana Ave. and are tentatively planning an Oct. 1 launch.
Retail locations are being finalized, but they will include Chairs Coffee and Saunders Cheese Market. They’ll announce additional locations on their website, www.savorsweets.com as well as their Facebook page.
They’ve ordered some 5,000 candy sticks and have dialed in sources for their compostable packaging.
“It took us almost longer to identify all of our packaging suppliers than it did the sugar,” says Mustard. “You can get organic sugar anywhere, but if you start looking for a compostable, food-safe, FDA-approved plastic bag, well … that’s harder.”
They’ll soon get started filling the orders generated by the Kickstarter campaign. Parrish-Geyer estimates it will take them up to 60 hours to make the 2,000 to 3,000 candies promised.
The extra money raised on Kickstarter allowed them to get a few things they’d planned to buy with their own money. They also upgraded to induction burners rather than electric and purchased twice the number of candy molds.
Mustard and Waidelich say they aren’t planning to leave their day jobs, but Waidelich admits he’s started dreaming of brewing beer for the cupcakes and perhaps one day opening a brewery.
Chocolate Beer Cupcakes with Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Jackie Mustard and Dylan Waidelich of Sweet and Stout made this cupcake with the special edition Ski to Sea ESB from Boundary Bay Brewing Co. in Bellingham.
For Chocolate Caramel Ganache:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 (12-ounce) bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping
For the Chocolate Beer Cake:
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons bittersweet cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/4 cups beer
To make the Chocolate Caramel Ganache: Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan until it starts bubbling on the sides (basically, almost boiling).
Place chocolate chips in a small metal bowl. After heavy cream has come to an almost boil, pour cream over chocolate chips and stir until smooth.
Stir in caramel. Place bowl in the fridge to cool to desired consistency, about 35 to 40 minutes. After you get that going, you’ll want to get started on the chocolate cake.
To make the chocolate beer cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In large bowl beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, cocoa and vegetable oil. Use electric mixer to blend well.
Measure out 3/4 cup milk and add 1 teaspoon vinegar to the milk to use in next step.
Add flour mixture alternately with beer and milk. Mix well between each addition.
Pour batter into lined cupcake pans using a 1/4-cup measuring cup. This should fill the pans about 2/3 full.
Bake cupcakes for 20 to 23 minutes. Check with toothpick for doneness.
After the cupcakes have cooled, take the ganache (when it’s at a spreadable consistency) and spread over cakes. Sprinkle each with a pinch of coarse sea salt while ganache is still soft. Refrigerate for later, or enjoy right now.