SAXTONS RIVER -- At a time when many businesses are struggling to stay open, one in the Connecticut River Valley has closed not because it's doing poorly -- but because it's booming.
Vermont Signature Sauces, the brainchild of Karen Whitman and Lance Del Priore, won first place in the Best New Product -- Specialty Food category at the New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food Show in Sturbridge, Mass., earlier this month. The award came at a time when the company is seeing unprecedented growth.
"We've tripled our business since June and it's because I've had time to go on the road, meet people and get on the phone and follow up because I'm not involved in the processing anymore," Whitman said on Friday.
After operating out of a 200-year-old building on Main Street in Saxtons River, and cooking at Harvest Moon Catering, since its inception, Vermont Signature Sauces has closed up shop and now much of the cooking, packing, labeling and shipping will be done by a co-packer in Winooski. Whitman explained that a co-packer is someone that takes on part of a food business.
Whitman said Randi-Kaye Metevier makes 42 cents per jar.
"We were getting too big to produce and the co-packer allows me not to cook, which allows me time to spend in sales and development," she said. "The office has gone to my home (in Westminster West) and the storage and the shipping is out of Lance's home (in Brattleboro).
The company makes four sauces -- marchand de vin, chipotle cream, delman sauce and marsala with wild mushrooms -- and plans to come out with four more by 2013.
The idea for the business started a couple of years ago. Whitman was having coffee with Del Priore's wife, Mary, who mentioned her husband was thinking of starting a new sauce company. Del Priore has a culinary background and graduated from Johnson & Wales University. After 23 years of owning Prime Focus Communications, a high-end electronics store in Brattleboro, he wanted a more enjoyable lifestyle.
He said he had to work nights, weekends and holidays to appease clients all over the region and got burned out after two decades in the business. Despite the company being a cash cow, he wanted to get out and reconnect with his love for a career in culinary arts.
"It's great. It's fun," he said. "Compared to my last career choice, it's a dream come true."
The company was incorporated in May 2010 and cooking started in August 2011. Whitman said Del Priore, who has worked at 5-star restaurants, came up with the recipes for the sauces.
Both went through mandatory courses before putting jars on the shelves and couldn't wait to get started.
"It's hectic. It's hectic and it's positive," Whitman said. "The reason we're growing is the fact that there's nothing like on the market out there and I'm taking it to the right places.
"We've done tastings every single weekend since June and when people taste it they don't mind paying the price," she continued.
She said the sauces are available mostly at high-end butcher shops, including North End Butchers at 972 Putney Road in Brattleboro. Whitman is quick to stress the company crafts finishing sauces and not anything like marinades, glazes or barbecue sauces.
Most recently, the company attended the fifth annual Vermont Life Wine and Harvest Festival in Wilmington from Friday, Sept. 21, to Sunday, Sept. 23.
"It went really well. The first day was so busy we didn't have any time to take a sip from our bottle of water," Whitman said. "We picked up a lot of new customers. ... It was a very good weekend. It was a lot of fun. We had a really good time."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.