In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Zenobia Taylor-Weiss, the owner of Cellar Door Preserves. Cellar Door Preserves sells small batch artisan fruit preserves in traditional and innovative flavors, is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has been in business for three years. Shop artisan fruit preserves here.
Abound: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Zenobia: I decided to start Cellar Door Preserves because I believe that the upper Midwest grows some of the best fruit on the planet (where we’re located on the east coast of Lake Michigan is called the “Fruit Belt”). I wanted to make a product that celebrated the terroir of the upper Midwest. I decided on fruit preserves because there wasn’t anyone else doing it in the city of Grand Rapids, MI where I’m located. I taught myself how to make jam during a year of chaos and change in my life and it has always been a calming, grounding practice for me.
Abound: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
Zenobia: I’ve been making jam for about a decade. I started doing it as a hobby, my first batch definitely did not turn out well. I spent many years making jam, pickles, and sauces in my home kitchen for me and my friends to enjoy. Throughout that time, I began to settle on flavor combinations and recipes that I thought were fun and a little different. Since my first years making preserves, I’ve refined my technique and have learned that even when you are adding extra or special ingredients, less is more.
Abound: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
Zenobia: All of our preserves are handmade in small batches (about 12-20 jars per batch). I fill, process, and label all of the jars by hand as well. Some of our preserves need to be started a day or two before their actual cook day to macerate and get some good flavors going. We do things the old fashioned way for the most part (not completely – you can pry my immersion blender from my cold, dead hands) which takes time and patience, but we believe vastly improves the taste of the final product.
Abound: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
Zenobia: I tend to start the day catching up on email, orders, and social media. Then I usually make jam in the afternoon. I weirdly love doing the bookkeeping and accounting for my business. I never thought that’s something I would enjoy, but I suppose when you can relate to it, things become more interesting. I don’t think there are any aspects of my job that I dislike, but I can get bored with super repetitive tasks (like packing up boxes for shipping). During those I usually just listen to a good podcast and time flies!
Abound: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
Zenobia: I used some money I had made in my previous business, which was teaching canning classes. My parents also gifted me some start up cash. I used that to purchase jars, lids, the pans I needed to make the jam, and a few other kitchen tools. I originally worked out of a shared commercial kitchen so I didn’t need to pay for a full lease which helped a lot!
Abound: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
Zenobia: Art of the Table, in Grand Rapids, MI. The owner is fantastic and is a wonderful supporter of local business and women entrepreneurs.
Abound: Where do you sell your product now?
Zenobia: We’re in specialty food shops, boutiques, grocery stores, and restaurants. Mostly in Grand Rapids, MI and Chicago, IL, but we’re gaining more traction throughout the rest of the country.
Abound: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
Zenobia: I love being in home good boutique stores and specialty food shops. We have some interesting flavors and we love filling the niche of something special that you can’t just get everywhere.
Abound: Do you have a favorite product? If so, which one?
Zenobia: Every flavor is like a child to me. I don’t make any I don’t love, but if forced to choose, I think my favorite flavor that I have available all year long has to be Raspberry Jam with Lavender. I’m obsessed with lavender and it was the first recipe I developed by myself, so it has a special place in my heart. I also love Rhubarb Jam with Cherries, Apricot Jam with Vanilla, and Plum Jam with Cardamom. If you’re lucky enough to snag any of these flavors while they are in season you will not regret it!
Abound: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
Zenobia: We’re on Instagram and Facebook, those are both really important for us to connect with customers. Beyond that we do a lot of face to face marketing, either handing out samples at the farmers market or going to artisan markets.
Abound: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
Zenobia: When I was first getting licensed through the state as a food manufacturer they had a problem with the type of pans I was using to cook my preserves in. It was really hard as a small business to find all of the information I needed to prove to them that what I was doing was safe and normal!
Abound: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
Zenobia: I sell jam to one of my favorite restaurants in existence: Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits in Chicago. They are a dream to work with and getting that opportunity was so exciting!
Abound: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
Zenobia: Just do it. Get some sort of prototype out there and get feedback! Starting small is fine and it’s better than never starting at all just because everything isn’t perfect. As a business owner you are constantly facing fear, you just have to accept that and lean into it. If you let the fear win you will never get a product out there!
Abound: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
Zenobia: This Ira Glass quote: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.
And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
Abound: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
Zenobia: I love making my own schedule. I typically work more than 40 hours a week, but it rarely feels draining, unlike other jobs I’ve had for other people where I worked 40 hours or less and had to drag myself in to work.