#NewtoNext: Diana Egnatz, Hot Spoon Preserves
Today we speak to the Queen of Confiture, Diana Egnatz. She’s on a mission to bring preserves out of the stuffy tea rooms of yonder and into the dishes and hearts of modern cooks. She creates handcrafted fruit spreads in exciting flavor combinations like peach and lavender, melon and pepper and green tomato and nectarine chutney.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into creating preserves.
I’m a recovering picky eater. I was raised in the Midwest surrounded by the Great Plains of Indiana. Every year I helped my mother plant and care for her extensive vegetable garden (we even had a moonlit planting dance). Although I wouldn’t eat much of our bounty, I was always wheeling my red wagon around the neighborhood pawning our fresh veggies off to the neighbors. When I was a teenager, we relocated to Lancaster, PA to be closer to family…and wonderful farms. As I grew up, I became obsessed with food and learning to cook; I was lucky always to be surrounded by incredible produce. In 2010, I moved to New York City, and I got my first apartment. I fell in love with food, cooking, and hosting dinners. Thus began my road of recovery from picky eating.
Looking for quality produce, I started shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket twice a week, buying everything I could carry home! I discovered this lost food heritage of canning and sauerkraut making in my family and set out to teach myself home preserving. What else was I going to do with my farmers’ market bounty? At the same time, I was working in a Japanese Cake shop slinging $12 slices of cake and found joy in helping my customers choose the right flavor for them. It was the culmination of my background, visual arts training, kitchen experimentation, and food retail experience that gave birth to Hot Spoon.
You’ve been in business for just over a year. Can you describe the day that you decided to go for it, and turn your idea into a company?
It was about three years ago when my mentor, and then boss, Gail Anderson sat me down and asked, “ Diana, so what do you want to do?” “I want to make jam. I want to be in every home’s pantry! “ I said… I had never been asked directly what I wanted to do, nor had I had that clear of a thought! I was experimenting with different preserves at home, but at that moment I decided to move in that direction. I was already passionate about seasonality and supporting regional farmers, wanted to give back to the planet in some way, and create a company with values aligned with mine.
So what’s an artist to do when they want to start a food business? That same week I signed up for a culinary entrepreneurship course at ICC and set out on this journey. I wasn’t going to jump head first into the food abyss without some knowledge, and a business plan. That course was invaluable and helped me get my business off on the right foot.
It’s clear from your website that sustainability factors into a lot of your decision-making around your business. What are the challenges associated with running a sustainable business, and why do you think it’s important?
We’re all in this together. I try to do my best as a human living in our modern world. I eat seasonally and local, compost, recycle, etc. Any brand is an extension of its founder and it is how I wanted to run by business. I’m very adamant about composting our production scraps–not that we create much–and I’ve been experimenting with creating fruit vinegars from our peels. There is so much food waste in the food industry, so my mission at Hot Spoon is to eliminate that waste as much as possible. We’ll see if I can continue this practice as we scale up.
My one non-negotiable is using peak-season, regional produce. I care about supporting our local farmers, and the whole reason to preserve is to preserve the best produce possible! For me that was a no brainer, it’s why my products taste extra peachy or melony, and I don’t need to add excess amounts of sugar. However, I am breaking a cardinal rule of business. Most food consumer package goods get an order and then produce for that order. I’m more like a squirrel. I produce for 4-5 months of the year and create a stockpile. Thank goodness my preserves are shelf stable. I’m at the mercy of Mother Nature which is my biggest challenge!
You have a very colorful, dynamic and modern visual brand. Can you share a little bit about the process of creating your brand?
That’s exactly what we were going for, thank you! I’m lucky to have Anderson Newton Design working with me on the branding, we are colleagues at the School of Visual Arts. The preserve, jam, condiment section is very saturated, and so I wanted Hot Spoon to stand out. I’ve been working with AND for years, and they know that my personal style is bright, patterned, and playful, so that’s where we automatically went!
I find most jam labels to be too precious or fancy looking which makes you feel like they should be brought out only for special occasions. I want the opposite reaction when people see Hot Spoon. Our jars invite you to pick them up! Hot Spoon is for the home cook’s arsenal; take a spoonful and make dinner more delicious! With a product like ours, it needs to stand out not only on the store shelves but when it comes home with people. My goal is for our products to be a pantry staple that people can whip out every day of the week, and the first step is creating an inviting label.
If you could get everyone to try just one of your preserves, which one would it be?
Are you sweet or savory? That’s what I usually ask any market stand customers, the answer influences my suggestion. However, the one I use the most in my own cooking is the Green Tomato + Nectarine chutney. It’s more savory and has a great tang with a bit of heat from habanero pepper. I put it on my avocado toast most mornings.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started? Do you have advice for women who are just starting out?
I jumped into this business as prepared as I could be, but it’s still been a learning experience. I spent months hand juicing lemons wasting time and money, and when I found a fresh lemon juice I could switch out, it made my production more efficient. Find your lemons!
I could spend days giving advice, but my condensed version is: stay true to yourself and your mission, know your time is valuable, get a massage, learn how and when to adapt, don’t be afraid of change, as for help, and curate an amazing support team for yourself.
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