Made in Delaware: Local businesses born in entrepreneurs’ backyards and kitchens go big
Delaware is home to many products that are manufactured here. With that in mind, we are introducing Made in Delaware ““ a recurring feature to show new developments from large and well-known companies ““ like DuPont, Kraft Foods and Dogfish Head Brewery ““ as well as shed some light on the smaller, lesser-known companies
If there is a company or business you own, know of, use, or just think makes Delaware a better state for business contact us at [email protected].
By Rob Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
Delaware Made: A coffee roaster, salsa maker, and a spacesuit producer
For the first installment of Delaware Made, we look at two local companies that began making their products in their own backyards, as well as a long-established company in Dover that’s been making space suits for NASA since we landed on the moon.
Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie
Back in 2007, Carol Allston-Stiles decided to start roasting her own coffee beans in her backyard as a way to help her husband Peter rehabilitate from a brain injury. Almost a decade later, Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie is one of Delaware’s best-known and best-loved brands.
“It began as a hobby and to help my husband, but, after we gave some to friends, they wouldn’t stop commenting on how delicious it was,” said Allston-Stiles. “So we went to Tom’s Produce on [Del.] 41, and the first 20 bags went in just a few days. From there, it was on to Zingo’s Supermarket, which was our first large store.”
Soon after that, Carol and her husband were roasting nearly every day of the week. Before long, Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie even had its own counter and coffee shop in the front entrance vestibule of Zingo’s.
“We wound up selling that spot recently, because we really want to focus on roasting, wholesale and retail,” said Allston-Stiles. “We’ve gone from our back yard to a 1,200-square-foot facility to a 3,000-square-foot facility a little over two years ago, so we’re continuing to grow, even though we sold the “˜shop.'”
Of course, Pike Creek Coffee can still be found by the bag at Zingo’s, but also at Shop Rite, Kitchen and Company, and the Newark Natural Foods. And, in some cases, Allston-Stiles says Delawareans might even be drinking Pike Creek Coffee and not even know it.
“Lucky’s Coffee Shop has our logo on their menu, and the Hockessin Athletic Club sells our products at their coffee bar,” said Allston-Stiles. “We’re in a lot of different restaurants and stores across the state, so it’s easy to get Pike Creek Coffee.”
So, what separates Pike Creek from most roasted coffee beans or fresh-ground coffee at places like Starbucks, or even Dunkin Donuts? Allston-Stiles says customers keep coming back because they know the coffee they’re buying has been roasted the week they’re buying it.
“We date our beans because there really is nothing like super-freshly roasted coffee,” said Allston-Stiles. “The aroma really hits you in the face, and anyone with a discriminating coffee palate can tell the difference between fresh roasted coffee, with subtle notes that get lost in older coffee or with dated grounds.”
Pike Creek gets its beans from all over the world, but primarily from brokers in California and New York, who source their beans from certified fair trade and organic farms in South America, Kenya and Costa Rica. Its most popular varietal is a blend of Columbian and Brazilian beans, called Morning Fog Lifter.
“The Fog Lifter sells so well because it’s a dark coffee that’s not bitter or burnt or toasted,” said Allston-Stiles. “For people who like dark coffee, that burnt or bitter flavor is usually their biggest complaint.”
Other popular flavors include the Blue Hen, with the state bird on the label, the Bananas Foster and the Maple Bacon, which fans love to serve with a big breakfast. Their entire selection is available at www.pikecreekcoffee.com, where you can also place orders for yourself or to be shipped around the world.
Freakin’ Fresh Salsa
Outside of Cinco de Mayo, the Super Bowl is the biggest annual event for salsa, the chunky, spicy condiment that now outsells ketchup 2-to-1 in the United States. According to a 2015 Huffington Post report, Americans alone eat enough salsa to fill a football field up to 12 feet deep.
So it’s no wonder that a Super Bowl Sunday almost six years was when the folks at Freakin’ Fresh Salsa really got their start in sales. Founder Ceil (Cecilia) Andrzejewski, along with husband Michael, says they had been making homemade salsa with their kids since 1989, but a special set of circumstances (much like Carol Allston-Stiles and Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie) put their business into action.
“My husband had worked in radio for nearly 30 years, but at the end of 2008, like at a lot of places, the industry was beginning to cut back and let people go,” said Andrzejewski. “Friends had always told us we should sell our salsa, so that January in 2009, we decided to enter the market.”
The Andrzejewskis first tested the market with friends, family and fellow churchgoers, and for Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, they sold more than 100 containers. They felt like super salsa champs in their own rite, and so, attained a spot at Booth’s Corner Farmer’s Market in Garnet Valley, Pa.
“We had 300 containers on hand for our first weekend at Booth Corner, and sold out of every single one,” said Andrzejewski. “Our sons helped us make the salsa, so it became a family affair. Soon after that, we made our way into Janssen’s Market, then Zingo’s, then Whole Foods on South Street in Philadelphia.”
Now Freakin’ Fresh Salsa is featured in most ShopRite locations, several independent grocery stores, and most Whole Foods locations from Princeton, N.J. to Richmond, Va. The Andrzejewskis now have a commercial kitchen in New Castle where they make an average of 1,500 containers per week, and they are about to break into the Ohio and Kentucky markets, thanks to the use of the Whole Foods distribution center in Richmond.
“I’m now running the business full time ““ I quit my day job ““ and my daughter does sales and marketing,” said Andrzejewski. “We now have five full-time employees and just hired our first full-time driver, which is the best thing ever.”
Andrzejewski says that, much like with Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie, the secret to success is all about the freshness. She and her staff make the salsa on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and it’s in the store Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“We mark each container with a shelf life; for example, the tomato salsa is good for four weeks, whereas the pineapple salsa is good for two weeks,” said Andrzejewski. “We also don’t use any preservatives and we don’t have a warehouse for storage. Once the salsa is made fresh, it’s out the door to the customer.”
Freakin’ Fresh Salsa features several varieties they sell, including the standard mild and hot, as well as spicier chipotle and habaÃ±ero varietals, and pineapple-mango and pico de gallo. For more information on their products, go to www.freakinfreshsalsa.com.
Since 1947, a company located in the state capital has been “creating what’s next,” producing some of the most advanced materials when it comes to spacesuits, plastics, and chemical containment.
Called ILC Dover, the company began as the International Latex Company in the late 1940s, and later morphed into Playtex. In its nearly 70 years of business, however, ILC Dover has produced space suits for the Apollo program missions from 1969 to 1972, and, most recently, prototype suits for next-generation missions to Mars.
Doug Durney, ILC Dover’s Global Marketing Director, says that, in addition to spacesuit design and production, the company is now growing in the pharma powder containment field, helping to make the lab environment safer for scientists.
“We are now making flexible structures that help contain active pharma ingredients while they’re being manufactured,” said Durnsey. “Basically, these are disposables to transfer and store powders to keep workers safe and keep the product from being contaminated.”
Durney said that spacesuit taught the company and its employees (which number above 400, most of which are Delaware residents) a lot about advance design approach, FDA certified materials, and how to integrate materials into 3D structures, so they can supply items to pharma companies around the globe.
“We are also knee-deep in protective equipment, including PAPR (powered, air-purifying respirators) respirators to support Ebola protection,” said Durney. “We also have facilities in Seaford and Frederica, though we still maintain a sister-company partnership with Playtex, which was founded in 1947 by Abram Nathaniel Spanel.”
For more info on ILC Dover, check out www.ilcdover.com. But to see some of their products in action, just sit down in front of the television for the next NASA shuttle launch. When you see the astronauts reporting in from space, you’ll likely see some items made right here in Delaware.