Eileen O’Hara knows what it’s like to run a growing business. O’Hara and her daughter, Julie Stevens, co-own Brimstone Originals Specialty Foods LLC, a company that manufactures a line of all-natural pepper jellies.
“We started out as a cottage industry but as we’ve grown,” she said, “it’s been interesting the challenges that we’ve faced.” O’Hara started making pepper jellies out of her home. Through pepper festivals, the St. Petersburg Saturday Market, and live demos, the company has grown so fast that it now has warehouse space, co-packers and a broker.
Along the way, O’Hara says it’s been challenging to find others to work with who care as much about the business as they do themselves. “This is our baby and we expect as much responsibility from these participants as we carry ourselves,” she said.
Regardless of the challenges, O’Hara says they keep going because they’re hooked. “We got hooked on this ourselves because of the reaction from customers to these products,” she said. “We even have a doomsday prepper now. He’s stockpiling the products because even after they’re opened they can last up to four years.”
In addition to having a long shelf life, the pepper jellies never have to be refrigerated, and the most recent additions are made with locally grown produce. The duo recently brokered a deal with a Plant City blueberry farmer to add two new flavors to the mix – blueberry jalapeno and blueberry habanero.
As a small business owner, wearing many hats can often be overwhelming. Thus, O’Hara reached out to the Florida SBDC at Pinellas County Economic Development in 2009 for guidance along the way, and she still works with them today.
“If any small business doesn’t take advantage of this agency,” she said, “they’re absolutely crazy because of the support. I think above all, it’s given us courage.” O’Hara’s business consultant, Kurt Forster, encouraged the duo to raise their retail prices as he felt they were undervalued. “We’ve come to understand that our product is special and people really like it, and if they like it they’re going to pay for it. Our bottom line has definitely changed.”
While Brimstone Originals is already in many local stores, including Mazzaro’s Italian Market, Savory Spice Shop and Locale Gourmet Market, they are also well represented in Costco and most recently, Publix. “We are now in at least 60 select Publix stores as far south as Miami and into the Carolinas,” O’Hara said.
What’s next? Getting more and more people to try Brimstone Originals pepper jellies. “In order for the product to get exposed to more and more people, we have to demo, as with any food product,” she said. “We want to get those demos going in those Publix stores because we’ll clear the shelves every single time.”