rebecca3.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Former editor/literary agent Rebecca Staffel quit her day job to start Deluxe Foods.
We love jam. We eat it on toast

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Meet Rebecca Staffel, Deluxe Foods' Jam Goddess

rebecca3.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
Former editor/literary agent Rebecca Staffel quit her day job to start Deluxe Foods.
We love jam. We eat it on toast and crackers and biscuits and pancakes and, hell, straight out of the jar. Don't know if you got the memo, but it's now considered pretty cool to can your own. Former editor/literary agent/Microsoftie Rebecca Staffel liked jamming so much she decided to start her own business, Deluxe Foods. How sweet!

SW: So, canning has always been something I associated with my grandmother, but it's suddenly hip. What do you think happened?

Rebecca: My parents were canners, so I grew up thinking it was a normal thing to do. I got my own gear about the same time I bought my first house--the yard had beautiful grapes and I wanted to make jelly. I think the canning resurgence can be (and has been) attributed to the combination of whole food/local food consciousness along with the lousy economy. And it's also just fun. I'm pretty sure a successful jam-making session in one's home kitchen releases dopamines.

SW: Talk about your life before launching Deluxe Foods. Weren't you a big shot in the publishing world?

Rebecca: Ha! Yeah, Billy Joel wrote a song about me. Um, seriously, yes, a lot of my career in the past 15 years has revolved around books and technology. I was the first cookbook editor at Amazon.com and then I went on to help open the Kitchen store there. After I left Amazon, I spent a few years as a literary agent, specializing in cookbooks and other nonfiction. I am proud of the fact that a few of my clients' books went on to win IACP awards. From literary agency, I went on to work FTE and then contract at Microsoft for several years, but I was missing food. This time I wanted to be a producer.

SW: What inspired you to shift gears and go out on your own?

Rebecca: I love, love, love the products of the great Pacific Northwest. The brilliant Robert Reynolds said to me once that if Oregon were in France, it would be its own AOC, and I think that would be true of Washington, as well. I had been trying to figure out what I could produce that would celebrate Washington fruit. At first, I worked on a business plan for a brandy distillery, but I discovered that that's mostly an expensive hobby. In addition to being a long-time jam maker, I have always been a jam tourist (suitcases full of jam, lugged home from France) and it occurred to me that there weren't enough artisan jam makers in Washington. So I started scheming and planning and here I am.

As for the actual gear-shifting, honestly, some things happened in the last decade of my life--divorce, new love, the death of a dear friend--that made me realize that just as all those self-help books recommend, you really have to live your life RIGHT NOW. Don't postpone joy, blah blah blah. So I decided that as much as I enjoyed the security of a regular paycheck and working for a big company, I needed to do the thing that would make me happy every day. Starting my own jam business is crazy, but it has also reduced my anxiety and increased my daily contentment.

SW: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur?

Rebecca: My biggest challenge is generally my ignorance--but that's what makes it fun! When I started out, I didn't know anything about how to get UPC codes or how to comparison shop for jar lids or that the capsaicin in pepper jelly eats the glue on labels. This has been a year of learning all kinds of things and getting completely out of my comfort zone.

Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin Q & A for more with Rebecca Staffel.

 
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