The At-Home Food Business

Alexandra Eisler can still remember the day it occurred to her that she really could have it all – a family, a business and a life filled with the kind of work that she calls fun.

“I remember I was on assignment for my government job in the Cotswolds, visiting a family that made preserves. There was this intoxicatingly delicious aroma of beet greens and horseradish, and the kids were running around. There they were, hard at work – and loving it. That day stuck in my head because it made me realize that’s what I wanted.”

Years later, after Eisler had become a mom herself, she decided it was time to quit the 9-to-5 and grab the dream.

“I had three ideas for a home business. Jam, cheese or beer. I have a passion for all three, but I decided on jam.” For months, she and her husband, Tim, tweaked recipes until they were ready to launch Kensington Marmalade, a line of homemade spreads made from local fruit.

The Eislers, who now cook up at least 50 pounds of fruit to sell each week, are part of a growing trend here in the Bay Area – of people chucking their business suits and briefcases in exchange for the family-friendly – and potentially lucrative – business of making and selling their own food products.

Vince Scalise, senior market manager for Pacific Coast Farmers’ Markets, says new food startups are applying to sell at his markets in record numbers. “We’ve always had a good number, but the number of applications is way up. I think it’s because people are losing their jobs and deciding to do something completely different.” Although it takes a lot of energy and resources to plant and grow a food business, he says the Eislers are not off-base in hoping that their efforts will pay off.

“Selling at the farmers market opens a lot of doors,” Scalise says. “Aidell’s Sausage started with us, and now look at them.” Contra Costa Farmers’ Market launched Bakesale Betty’s, one of the hottest new bake shops in the Berkeley area.

Besides a lot of hard work, he says, the key to growing a great business is to start with an outstanding recipe that seems to have mass appeal.

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