Industry: Food & Beverage
Owner Rowena Montoya is experimenting with caramel flavors using a manufacturing process designed specifically for Utah's altitude.
Montoya understands that when an entrepreneur releases a new product into the marketplace there is a fear no one will buy it. She understands it. But she's never faced it.
Montoya began making caramels to bring attention to her husband's booth at trade shows. "My husband, Frank, had to make changes in his business. He was the new guy at the trade shows. The caramels helped with that process," she says. "Not only did they start talking to him, but they started asking where they could buy the caramels!"
With customers already waiting in line, Montoya created a new business around her Aunt Julie's recipe. Montoya is very close to her Aunt Julie and Aunt Nancy Ann, and she named JulieAnn Caramels after them."When my mother died, I lived with Nancy Ann," she says. "She is the one who raised me. I was 15 years old and very bitter and angry. Their family taught me so many things. The two most amazing things they taught me were to hope and have faith."
Montoya also turned to her Aunt Julie, who owns her own shop in California, for help. "Having her here was important," Montoya says. "I could go to California and make them with her but the altitude is different here in Utah. It was something we needed to do here."
Once she was comfortable manufacturing the caramel itself, Montoya was ready to innovate. "My thought was if ice cream can have 31 flavors and jelly beans can have different flavors, why can't it be caramel's turn?"
She started to think of all the food combinations she could create. "I started wondering, 'What could we do with caramel and chocolate? Nuts? Fruit?' Some of our creations really worked. In fact, we won an award for our Pineapple Habanero. I'm not a culinary expert. But I was willing to experiment with fun flavors."
While Montoya enjoys experimenting, she did quickly settle on the sources for her caramel. She turned to Meadow Gold and Dairy Gold for milk and butter. "I am very picky about ingredients. I want the highest quality, but I also want to use anything I can that is local here in Utah."
JulieAnn Caramels are available at Harmons Grocery locations as well as through the company's website. "We also do corporate gifts," Montoya adds. "But this year I wanted to work on my online, direct sales. Wholesale through Harmon's has gone well, and so it was time to improve my online sales. I started with re-creating and investing in a better website."
Montoya is looking to expand her business. "We need help keeping up," Montoya says. "But the process has been crazy. I'm just a mom. But when you own a business, you have to be an engineer, a marketing specialist, a bookkeeper, an electrician. But being a mom helps. When you're a parent, you have to figure things out on the fly. And it's the same in running a business. If you don't know about how to figure out if your floors are level or can support your equipment, you Google it. You find a video on YouTube. You ask other business owners. It's exciting."
Challenges: Looking for a newer, bigger location. "It's so hard to face doing that again," Montoya admits. "But my grandfather always said, 'You just keep chopping wood.' Whenever I'm discouraged or think I can't do something, I keep chopping wood. I keep going."
Opportunities: Additional exposure. Dairy Gold is including JulieAnn Caramels in its 100-year magazine. "And we're also participating in the Specialty Food Show in San Francisco. I've taken classes there for two years. Now I'm going as a vendor."
Needs: The right machinery. Montoya compares buying the right machines to buying a new house. "It's scary. I've helped my husband with his business for years. But having your own business and making your own decisions, being the one in charge, is very different."