The origin of Blue Kettle Specialty Foods comes down to one thing: a really good salsa recipe. Marcy Mydlak had been giving her salsa away to friends and family for years, and everyone told her it tasted so good she should sell it. While the idea of selling her salsa by the jar in her front yard had crossed her mind, the idea evolved into a family affair that has made Blue Kettle a regular feature on the local food scene.
The opportunity to turn her passion in the kitchen into an economic venture happened when Marcy found herself laid off from a sales job. Leaving a job that didn't really excite her, her sister Carol Olivieri offered to assist short-term to help get the ball rolling.
"Carol suggested that I create at least two more products, so I came up with the chili base and a pasta sauce." explains Marcy. "It's my one and only talent. I can invent recipes."
They skipped the front lawn salsa stand and instead made their debut at the St Albert indoor farmers' market in 2000. "We sold 43 jars and we were ecstatic," explains Carol. "Over the next two years we moved to the summer markets, but we had customers saying they were waiting all winter for us. We realized we had to start getting into smaller retail stores, do more events, and up production."
With Carol in charge of marketing and distribution, Marcy was free to get more creative in the kitchen. Salsa may have been the start, but salad dressings soon took over as items most in demand.
"I started to create new products based on things we liked, but also based on customer requests," explains Marcy. "For a long time people were asking for a Caesar dressing, but since there are so many options out there I didn't think it was necessary." Eventually she gave into consumer pressure and came up with an Asiago Caesar that is their second most popular item. Looking at a list of their goods, most were created as a result of what regulars asked Marcy to create.
Many of the Blue Kettle products are attractive to clients with dietary restrictions. The three newest salad dressings are either sugar free or low sodium, and 13 products are gluten free. "We sort of stumbled into the gluten free goods market, but with sugar and sodium so big in health matters now, I will probably go back to some of my original recipes to find out how I can make them taste as good but with less sodium or sugar."
Those who walk by the tent at the St Albert farmers' market on Saturdays will see a crowd waiting for a taste. Carol says, "Sampling is an extremely important to us. We stand behind our products, and we want people to make a purchase of something they know they will like."
Between markets, retail sales and providing larger quantities for the food service industry, the duo has almost outgrown their location in the industrial area of St Albert. The kitchen is in production at least four days a week, and will move to five days a week during the busy season from September to December when winter craft shows and Christmas basket making have the women of Blue Kettle in full swing.
Carol was only planning on helping her sister for six months to get a little idea called Blue Kettle going, but that has turned into 10-year partnership with no end in sight. "Our father always said that working without a partnership is best, but if you have to have a partner, don't do it with family," laughs Carol. "But we both bring different things to the company, therefore it works," explains Marcy. "If it ever stops being fun, we'll stop. But so far it's still fun. And of course, it's great to come to a work place that tastes so good." V
Blue Kettle Chocolate Bananas
(for Chocolate Indulgence)
2 firm bananas
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 oz amber or white rum (optional)
Blue Kettle Chocolate Indulgence to taste (warmed in the microwave)
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
Preheat a large frying pan on medium high heat.
Add butter, melt but be careful not to burn.
Cut ends off the bananas and cut in half lengthwise. Carefully remove banana halves from peel and place in frying pan flat side down. Fry for one minute. Carefully flip bananas over, add brown sugar, rum and flambé. Once flame extinguishes, slide two banana halves onto each plate.
Drizzle with a generous amount of warm Chocolate Indulgence. Top with vanilla ice cream and or whipped cream and a sprinkle of slice almonds.
Marcy Mydlak and Carol Olivieri
Blue Kettle Specialty Foods