As a college student, Amy Wolfrom wondered what “cool” careers might be possible.
Her love of cooking and baking led her to the idea of making and selling something she’d always enjoyed – jam. Working at Whole Foods Market, she realized that an organic, homemade specialty jam was a niche waiting to be filled.
“I wanted to make a healthy alternative to many jams on the market,” said the Mountain View resident.
She conducted the research, purchased the necessary equipment and started creating, using her boyfriend, friends and co-workers as taste-testers for various recipes.
She came up with the name (her boyfriend’s nickname is “Cool”), registered it and started making jam. But she soon hit a roadblock in the form of paperwork.
“One of her buyers at Whole Foods said, ‘Amy, I’ll buy your jam. Let me send you the paperwork,’” Amy’s mother, Rose, said. “She sent her an envelope (inches thick).”
Although that dissuaded Amy from pursuing store sales, she still hopes to expand into that market someday.
She had heard about a Cottage Food Operator (CFO) permit and thought that would be the best route, but even that proved daunting. She decided it might be best to keep the endeavor more of a hobby, selling to friends, family members and co-workers.
Although Rose was skeptical of her daughter’s business idea, she was supportive.
“I thought, ‘Let me make jam with her,’” Rose said. “So she came over, we made it together and I took one bite of it and said, ‘This is what jam is supposed to taste like.’”
Pooling their talents
As it turned out, Rose was ready for a change from her retail career and decided to team up with her daughter. Rose now makes and sells most of the jam and handles the paperwork. Amy, “more computer-savvy” than her mother, does the advertising and marketing. The Facebook page Amy designed and maintains features eye-catching photos and dozens of recipes using their products.
Rose sells at three farmers’ markets and on nonmarket days is busy making jam to replenish the supply. During the summer, Amy travels to local organic farms throughout the Bay Area and picks the fruit herself. In fall and winter, Rose buys her ingredients at farmers’ markets, Rodriguez Farms in Watsonville and local stores with organic fruits on sale, she said. They try to keep their fruit as local as possible.
One of the most challenging aspects of their venture has been finding the right locations to sell.
“You have to keep trying to find the right market and then everything has to be just right for your products,” Rose said. “It has to have the right location, it has to have foot traffic, it’s got to have variety, parking, demographics – it’s just trial and error sometimes.”
A CFO permit, which allows for direct sales at farmers’ markets, bazaars, events and private sales – requires a two- to three-page application, along with samples of product labels. A much pricier permit, for direct and indirect sales, enables store sales. A business license and a vendor’s permit to sell at farmers’ markets are also required, and there’s a stall fee at each individual market.
Amy echoed Rose’s thoughts on the challenges of starting a business.
“All of the paperwork, applications, money spent,” she said. “There isn’t a simple step-by-step process, and many different government offices send you back and forth all over the place.”
Bureaucracy and paperwork aside, Rose “relishes” the jam business and enjoys the freedom that comes with being her own boss.
“I can make as much jam as I want, or as little, whenever I want,” she said. “You don’t have to answer to anybody but yourself.”
Amy said the process gives her the opportunity to exercise her creative side.
“But most of all,” she said, “it is something I get to do with my mom, which is extremely special to me, and a memory I can cherish for the rest of my life and hopefully pass along to my children one day.”
Amy is currently back in school, working toward a bachelor’s in business administration with an emphasis in accounting.
Ingredients and recipes
Rose said that though everyone’s palate is different, “the vast majority” of people who’ve tried it like their jams. One thing that sets them apart, she said, is the small amount of coconut sugar they use. Amy had researched the science behind making jam and learned that it will last up to a year on the shelf without adding a lot of fillers.
“In an 8-ounce jar, there’s a tablespoon (of sugar), so it enhances the flavor of the fruit,” Rose said. “I tell everybody, ‘It’s fruit in a jar, not sugar in a jar.’”
The Wolfroms offer classic single-fruit jams such as apricot, blackberry, cherry and strawberry as well as combinations including pear-vanilla, blackberry-peach-raspberry, apricot-pineapple and mango-raspberry. In mid-summer, they sell as many as 25 varieties.
“The more exotic flavors are from experimenting with different sweet-tangy-sour and texture combinations,” Amy said. “Strawberry-Kiwi, for instance, is a popular flavor drink, but I’d never seen it as a jam, so I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’
She added that one of her favorites required her to do a bit of convincing.
“Banana was one my mother wasn’t sure about, but I knew it would be amazing with nut butter or on pancakes,” Amy said.
Amy’s future plans include developing three or four recipes for each jam flavor as well as a cookbook.
“She has a lot of ideas,” Rose said. “I have to give her all the credit.”
Look for the Cool Jams stall at Stanford’s Tressider Union (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays), PJCC in Foster City (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, 800 Foster City Blvd.), the San Carlos farmers’ market (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, 700 block of Laurel Street) and occasionally the Cupertino farmers’ market (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays, Creekside Park on Miller Avenue). They are currently looking into additional markets. Local delivery also may be arranged.