Rosy Plum Spritz + Chat with Trade Street Jam Founder
My interview with Ashley Rouse, CEO of Trade Street Jam Co discusses all things delicious and navigating the highs and lows of being a business owner.
When you think about jam, what comes to mind? I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was toast, because that was mine. But after speaking with Ashley Rouse of Trade Street Jam Co, my opinion completely changed. She describes recipes for cocktails, milkshakes, meat, fish and even a dish with Brussels sprouts made with her jams! Talk about innovation!
Oh, and did I mention her products are all vegan?
Ashley’s been working hard on her company and product line since 2016 and she’s learned some key lessons along the way that have contributed to her major success. This entrepreneur describes that even with hard work, there are still bumps along the way and her biggest piece of advice is, “Do it, don’t be afraid, be strategic.” You can definitely see that her strategies are working – even through the pandemic, she has been able to hit record high sales!
Throughout the conversation, Ashley is candid, speaking openly and honestly about her highs and lows. More than anything, the mom-to-be remains so grateful and excited for the future. I can’t help but feel her genuine passion shining through.
Check out my full interview with Ashley below and be sure to stop by https://tradestjamco.com/ to find the perfect jams for you!
How are you? How have you been doing with everything going on right now?
“I am good, you know there is so much going on first with COVID, next with the Black Lives Matter Movement, and then this crazy surge in business and I’m about 4 weeks away from giving birth, so I’m just trying to take it in stride… Pray and be grateful…the good thing is I’m SO looking forward to meeting my new best friend, so that’s kind of keeping me a little sane right now.”
Canning and preserving is one of those long lost traditions. How did you get into making jam?
“It is a lost tradition. I haven’t heard anyone say that in a while. You know I went to culinary school, I’ve always and only ever worked in the food industry. I’ve always just been a big foodie, and always played around with stuff. With jam specifically, I just love the idea of preserving something when it is ripe or in peak season and then being able to enjoy it later, so I would love canning jam and bourbon cherries, and things like that in the Summertime and then in the dead of Winter, when you’re not getting that being able to really enjoy it…
I used to have food swaps and would bring a bunch of foodies over and you bring a dish, portioned out in a mason jar whatever you wanted to do. So, I’d always do jam, you swap with your friends. It was really fun foodie stuff. So, that’s kind of how I started it. But, I really kind of took a liking to the jam.
…I really wanted to start a business and call it Trade Street Jams because I lived on Trade Street in North Carolina in a tiny apartment. When I moved to Brooklyn a few years ago I was inspired by all the makers and crafty things out here; the art, the music, the food, and I was like I should bring back the jam, so I started selling small batches on Etsy. Here we are today, four years later and I can’t keep up with the orders that are coming in.”
When you started Trade Street Jam Co on Etsy, did you jump in full-time?
“Not at all, I have been full-time for 2 years in October. I started in 2016. I was selling on Etsy, I would make a small batch of jams, like maybe 30 jars and then when the flavor sold out it would never come back, I would retire it. So, it was really creating this demand, like if you see something you love, get it now. Obviously that is the least sustainable thing you could probably do. But, I didn’t know. But, I started doing that and selling to a lot of friends and family on Facebook. Then, I started doing these craft fairs which are really popular around Manhattan or Brooklyn…It was a great way to test the concept.”
How many jams have you sold in your last surge?
“We’ve had a crazy record. I’m super transparent about how much we do. We usually sell $5,000 to $8,000. We’ve done $40,000 this month.”
Ashley then describes how she remains honest about every aspect of her business because when she was starting off, she had a difficult time finding resources. She reiterates how vital it is for her to share this information, in hopes of solving problems that other business owners might face.
Social Media and Instagram are a huge part of your business, why did you choose to focus on Social Media?
“For my product, the main focus was to really help people understand that it is more than something that goes on toast. With Instagram being so popular, that’s where we needed to be because if we’re going to educate the consumer on what they can use our products for, then they have got to see it…”
Also, my husband’s in Marketing, I’ve spent some years doing Marketing for a food company. Really, this is where it’s at, growing your business online. Everything is online, and so it’s an important part to be social. It’s really our way to stay connected to customers.
Initially… you would never see me on the feed. I used to think that was such a big no-no and I’ve totally changed that narrative… I’ve realized how important it is to give people a snapshot of who is behind the brand, it allows them to feel connected.”
What is the craziest way you’ve used jam?
“I have a customer who loves putting our Smoked Peach Jam in her meatloaf recipe…That jam is also great on shrimp tacos, ribs, seared steak. We have multiple jams that are great glazes or are great pan sauces.
…Salad dressings are really fun with the jams and really easy to do. You just shake some up in the jar, especially if you have just a little jam left in the jar. You can add some fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and shake up the jar. We call that Bottom of Jar Salad Dressing.”
…We have a good Brussels sprouts recipe with the Plum Rose Jam. That’s probably one of my favorite recipes.”
For cocktails, what would you replace with the jam?
“So, you can replace your simple syrup and muddled fruit. It’s a really nice way to incorporate fresh fruit… If you don’t like a ton of sweet drinks, this is a nice way to add a little bit of sugar but a lot of flavor.”
Even with the Plum Rose, that’s probably my number one favorite jam, it has been for a few years now. My mom will stir in a little champagne, you can put in lemon juice, you can add a little St Germain, and it makes like a really nice Plum Rose 75.”
What’s your number one favorite cocktail?
“I’m a big Bourbon fan. I’m an Old Fashioned Girl. We have a recipe on our website for a Sour Cherry Old Fashioned. It’s really, really nice. I won’t even limit it to that flavor. You can honestly make it with any flavor. My husband loves a Smoked Peach Old Fashioned because it has that smokiness in it.
Another one that sticks out to me is a Boozy Strawberry Chocolate Milkshake. We do dark chocolate ice cream, strawberry chipotle and fig jam which has a little spice to it, almond milk, chocolate sauce, and bourbon. And you blend it up. It is so nice!”
What advice do you have for someone who has an idea for a food and beverage business or product but is scared to take action?
“Well, first I would probably do some research and find out if there is a need in the market for it… because if you have a business and there is just no demand for it, no matter what you do it’s never going to kind of pop like you want it to. And also this helps to find out what’s already out there… so, just getting a feel for the market overall.
Also, starting small by testing out the concept, like I said putting it on Etsy, you know, before you’re paying for a website. You just list a few products on Etsy and see what happens, or sell them on Facebook to your friends and family, start an Instagram page, see if you can get some sales through there. And then, definitely the craft markets and fairs because you’ll get that instant feedback right away.”
Between 80% and 90% of food businesses fail within their first 1-2 years, what do you think contributed to your success?
“You never know what’s around the corner and it’s always super challenging, but having a product that’s unique is very important, if it’s something that everyone is doing it’s not going to stand out, so I think innovation is really important.
Also, going online… and mold with the trend. We saw early on the trend [for] online shopping. With the growth of Amazon, and all these things pointing to consumers going online for shopping, and food was a big part of that, so, that’s when I was like, ‘let’s grow this business online.’ So, not being tied to something that is going to financially put you at a hardship. Also, not keeping a ton of inventory, you’re really just trying to keep an eye on your finances…Be strategic with your money and be smart with it.”
Do you have any communities or resources online that you can recommend for someone?
“There’s tons of Facebook groups, even if you look up hashtags like #smallbusinessowners or stuff like that on Instagram, that’s helpful. There’s a lot of services like Small Business Administration (sba.gov) with free resources with free classes and courses, in person and online. That teaches you how to build your business, how to manage your finances, how to manage your inventory and you can just sign up for free and really get knowledge from people who have been in the industry for years.
Even Facebook, if you get on their mailing list they have a ton of different courses. The internet has so much free stuff, you just have to have the mental fortitude to go out there and find it.”
What advice do you have for a young woman who aspires to do something like what you’re doing now, what would your message to her be?
“Do it. Don’t be afraid. Be strategic. You don’t have much to lose if you do something and it doesn’t work. I think I always thought that with the jam, if it doesn’t work then I’ll stop.
I have friends or people I talk to through Instagram, that say their business is doing so well, but they’re scared to take it to the next level. I’m like, ‘why? Just do it. Or don’t, but then you’ll regret it.’
Ashley then candidly describes the moments when she reached out to Whole Foods and received multiple no’s until she put it out of her mind and can you guess what happened? Whole Foods reached out to her, asking if they can put her products in their stores! She says, “I feel like the moment I stopped thinking about them and moved on, is the moment that they reached out.”
With everything going on now with Black Lives Matter, do you have anything you want to share with me or my community.
“There is a big surge right now to support black businesses and I think the only thing I can say is supporting a woman or minority businesses is such an important thing, at any time. I think any time you want to help anybody in the world, is a good time. I’m grateful for all the support we have gotten and I think for people of color we just have to keep our heads up and keep pushing, that’s the only thing we’ve ever done and the only thing we’ve ever known. So, we just have to keep doing what we’re doing. For non people of color, I think it’s important to educate yourself about what’s going on because ignorance sometimes is just as bad as being a part of the problem…and help where you can is really, really important.”