When life hands you lemons, make applesauce. Or so goes the plot of the 1987 movie, Baby Boomers, when a frazzled high-powered executive finds that the secret to juggling unexpected motherhood and career is creating her own niche and selling gourmet baby food to a marketplace hankering after baby applesauce made of fresh ingredients. It’s an idyllic look at the secret yearning of many foodistas, the desire to create specialty delicacies in your own backyard.
But Maureen Gallagher Harder, mom and proprietor of Natick-based Sassy Sauces, says that such a romantic view of creating handmade, small-batch, artisan food products isn’t always quite reality. Sure, she has a built-in fan base with three small children taste testing her bittersweet chocolate or peanut butter fudge (Noah likes chocolate, and Quinn prefers caramel), but her days are also spent lifting 100-pound bags of sugar and cocoa. Toiling over 200-pound batches of bubbling caramel in a skillet requires long, 14-hour days in a shared community kitchen, not to mention sterilizing the jars, labeling, boxing, storing, and delivering the product. “You’re the accountant, manufacturer, sales person, marketer, and bottle washer,” said Harder. “Something you do as a hobby isn’t always necessarily going to work as a business.”
Harder’s Sassy Sauces are available at gourmet stores such as Whole Foods Market and Eli Zabars in New York City, as well as online, but she also makes the rounds of local farmer’s markets, where she encounters other locally grown food producers. “The gourmet food network is a little subculture; we are always sharing information,” said Harder. “You can get advice on everything from liability insurance – ‘What can I expect to pay?’ – to recommendations for graphic designers to create your packaging.”
Q: Why sauces – why not some other gourmet food?
A: There are plenty of all-natural cookies, bakeries and sweets in the marketplace, as well as hot sauces or barbecue sauces. But when I started my business three years ago, there weren’t a lot of all-natural dessert sauces that were locally sourced. I didn’t want my kids to eat a sauce that tasted like chemicals.
Q: What was the first batch you made?
A: I was working as a pastry chef in a restaurant, and had just had my second son. I made some chocolate and caramel sauces as a Christmas gift, and my husband’s co-worker actually liked it so much, he ate half the jar with his fingers on the way home.
Q: What goes into a business that you didn’t realize?
A: It’s been very eye opening, from getting the licensing to start a wholesale food business in Massachusetts to finding a commercial kitchen that had all the equipment I needed.
Q: Do your kids get to eat all the chocolate sauce they want?
A: Well, you can put the sauces over ice cream or fruit, blend it into milkshakes, or eat it plain, but I can’t let them have this treat every single night in our house. I have to put some limits on it.