This is the third in the series of posts profiling fabulous food businesses. These are fabulous businesses who are sharing their wisdom and experiences to help others get a flying start on creating their own food dreams. If you would like to see the earlier posts in this series, scroll to the links at the bottom of this post.
Today I am featuring Natasha’s Just Brittle. Natasha’s Just Brittle is a candy company created by Natasha Brown-Wainwright based in Baltimore. Natasha sells brittle in a myriad of flavours including walnut, cashew, granola, cookie and sunflower to name just a few. She has a flavor for everyone.
Aside from the wide range of flavours, the other thing that differentiates Natasha’s Just Brittle is the natural ingredients. Unlike many other candies, Natasha doesn’t use corn syrup. Instead she is using agave and for other products like sugar and vanilla Natasha makes sure she is using organic. Of course we are talking about candy so this is not something you should be eating every day. But if you are going to treat yourself the ingredients make this a slightly less guilty treat.
But it is not just the actual product that differentiates this company. Natasha has a strong sense of community and is using her brittle to help out her community. She is giving to people living with autism and is using the company to create job opportunities, particularly for young people and single mothers, groups that traditionally may struggle to find employment. As the company grows, Natasha is keen to share ownership with her employees.
At the time Natasha created Natasha’s Just Brittle she had been running a day centre for 10 years. Keen to teach the older children business fundamentals, Natasha ran an exercise where the children sold food including cakes and other food products. Wanting to sell a candy, Natasha found a recipe for brittle that she thought would work. After the exercise was over, the parents kept asking for the brittle and the rest as they say is history.
Running two businesses at the same time is challenging for anyone. Natasha has managed to achieve all that she has through good time management and being an early riser. However, setting up a new business is time consuming for anyone and Natasha has had to give up Taekwondo for now.
Natasha has made sure that she keeps up her exercise and works out four days a week, with treats like her brittle on Fridays. Keeping healthy and taking time for yourself is important and particularly so when you might feel overwhelmed by all you need to do setting up your own business.
Of course key to all of this is that Natasha loves the experience of creating new products, especially when she gets to do it with her daughter. Natasha’s daughter has been a great help with the business, helping with the development of new flavours and products, as well as making the chocolates Natasha’s Just Brittle is selling.
With all she has on her plate you would be forgiven for thinking Natasha was going to go the slow organic route to getting growth. But not so. Natasha has taken a well-rounded approach to grow her business. She has expanded her product range to include chocolate treats and brittle popcorn – with the help of her daughter.
Natasha has also looked at the location and ways of selling her brittle. She has been selling online and at markets and has tweaked how she offers the products online. People can still just order retail sized amounts of brittle, but Natasha now also offers a subscription club and wholesale amounts to ensure people can order the brittle in a way that best suits them.
And her next big move is to set up a physical location. Natasha is doing this in collaboration with two other food businesses, a bakery and a café to create a sweetery – B’Mores Sweetery. And in line with Natasha’s philosophy of giving back to the community, there will be commercial kitchen facilities for others to rent, allowing other small businesses the opportunity that Natasha has had to start her business; Natasha currently makes the brittle in another businesses kitchen.
Natasha also plans to use the kitchen to offer cooking courses to children. Encouraging healthy eating in children is one of Natasha’s passions. In her daycare business, Natasha encourages children to be involved in the cooking of meals, be it something as small as making toast. No fried or microwaved food is served at her daycare. Having ready access to a commercial kitchen will enable her to reach more children and offer them cooking classes.
In the longer term, Natasha is taking the Goldilock’s approach to business, she wants to be not too big and not too small. It is important for business owners to decide what they want their business to look like, bigger isn’t always better. It depends on what you want to achieve. Natasha would love to have four B’more sweeteries in Baltimore, with commercial kitchens to rent to help more small businesses.
Of course marketing has played a part in the growth of Natasha’s Just Brittle. Natasha has taken the opportunity to take part in events such as the Metro Cooking Show where she stepped up and cooked for 18,000 people. When I spoke to Natasha, she was preparing to cook for a tailgate party for the annual Army/Navy game at Annapolis where she was expecting to cook for 30,000 people. Taking part in these types of events is great for raising the profile of a business.
Advice to others
My last question was what advice would Natasha give to others looking to set up their own food business. Natasha’s had two tips for new businesses, ‘know your industry’ and ‘don’t be afraid to step out of the box’. Natasha took her own advice when setting up. She researched similar businesses and stepped out of her comfort zone, asking other candy stores if she could do training with them. This was not something that Natasha felt comfortable doing, but realized she needed to push herself to make her business a success.
Finally a thank you to Natasha for making time in her busy schedule to talk to me. If you are looking for a sweet treat make sure you check out Natasha’s website and if you are in the Baltimore area, check out the new shop, opening in the next couple of months. There is a flavor for everyone and the brittle makes a great gift.
Previous posts in this series: