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Wednesday, 25 December 2013 00:00

Capturing success in a jar

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fr copperpotIt’s about preserving tradition — delicious tradition.

“We live in a small town, and it’s wonderful when you start meeting local farmers and seeing what they’re trying to do, trying to support themselves by living off the land,” said Jessica DeMarco. “It’s appealing, and we want to help support this concept, this way of life.”

 

DeMarco is the owner/chef of Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon, a Waynesville-based company specializing in handcrafted jams, pickles and artisan foods. Coming into its third year of operation, the business recently held an open house on Dec. 19 to celebrate the opening of a storefront.

“The idea is that we’re using traditional culinary methods in a kitchen, not in a factory,” she said. “We produce food for local people, from local products, and in that way we’re helping preserve that tradition of local farms and keeping those food traditions alive.”

Moving to Haywood County 12 years ago, DeMarco went to culinary school and had aspirations of doing pastry work, perhaps even open her own bakery. She wanted something that would tie into the local food movement currently blossoming in Western North Carolina. 

“I have such an interest in food preservation,” the 32-year-old said. “Working in the food industry, that interest grew, then I started doing my own thing on the side for family and friends — that’s where the seed for my business started.”

DeMarco worked as the front of the house manager at the Stable Café in the Biltmore House. The relentless pace of work and obligations took its toll. She was coming to a crossroads in her life, one that soon manifested itself into the idea for the Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon.

“My husband and I had kids, and it became a hectic lifestyle,” she said. “And I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so we started doing my business on a small scale.”

Coming to life in her kitchen, DeMarco began experimenting with different recipes for jams, spreads and pickles — all with an emphasis on using local products. Her relationships with regional growers resulted from her weekly vendor booth at the farmer’s markets in Waynesville. The more she dug into local produce, the more ideas sprang to life in her mind and on her table.

“The local food movement has become more prominent. People are more aware of where their food is coming from,” she said. “And it’s nice to know where your food is coming from, what’s going into it, who’s making it. There’s something appealing to that when you know about it.”

Add into those early endeavors a small business start-up competition grant from the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, and DeMarco was well on her way to reaching her dream. Two years ago, the company moved into its current location on Pigeon Street in Waynesville. The centerpiece of the facility is the kitchen, a laboratory of sorts where DeMarco, her brother Dan Stubee and chef Brooks Wallace experiment and create their wares.

“It’s all about working with farmers and meeting new customers,” Wallace said. “We’re always trying new things that Jess and all of us are coming up with. It’s great to see a product from start to finish.”

And that notion of “handmade in a kitchen” products is something DeMarco keeps close to the heart of her business.

“It can be a challenge to meet demand when you’re doing small batch preparation and not using large commercial equipment or huge steam kettles,” she said. “But, that’s what makes our jams and pickles different. They’re hand-cut and hand-packed, and there are people out there that really appreciate that — we’ve found a good market for it.”

Alongside nods from Food & Wine and Garden & Gun magazine, products from the business are being shipped to Asheville, New York City, Washington and California, with more than 50 stores carrying the goods.

“It’s a little surprising to an extent, seeing as this started as just a sideling thing,” DeMarco said. “It’s validating for sure when other people are recognizing what you’re doing and appreciate it. It’s about coming up with a brand, not just for jams and pickles, and trying to communicate our thought behind the whole thing.”

At the open house, patrons from around the community and members of the Haywood Chamber mill about the storefront, trying an assortment of food samples. 

“It’s always fun to watch the growth process from when they started out and didn’t have a facility, when they were looking for jars, perfecting their recipes and working out of their home to getting national recognition,” said CeCe Hipps, president of the Haywood Chamber. “It is so special to buy local and grow local, and that idea will only make our community stronger.”

DeMarco is at the center of the celebration, all smiles, gracious to any who cross the threshold of her building. Today is a great day, with tomorrow being another opportunity to make the Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon known to the world.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun,” she smiled. “We want people to enjoy our products. When you buy local, you support local business. By supporting our business, you’re supporting local agriculture. It’s a great thing to see and do, and I hope to pass that along.”

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