Wild Family Thymes



A local mother-daughter team is behind the cutting-edge condiment company, Wild Thymes

 

Working with her mother is "really special," says Ann Stettner (at right). "We don't have any trust issues; we know we're on the same team." Photo courtesy of Wild Thymes
 
  

Olivia is hard at work. Papers are scattered across her desk, pens are underfoot, and she is busy on the phone.

  

“No, we don’t have four cases of Thai chili dipping sauce, you’ll have to take two,” she says matter-of-factly. “And there’s no plum chutney today, only mango papaya.” She hangs up with a shrug.

 

Not the most professional demeanor, but hey, the toy phone doesn’t have a dial tone anyway. 

 

From her desk across the room, Olivia’s mother, Ann Stettner, watches her four-year-old daughter. She wonders if Olivia (or “Peanuts,” as her grandmother has dubbed her) will eventually become part of Wild Thymes, the gourmet condiment company Ann launched with her mother, Enid Stettner, in 1997. “Running a company is a lot to handle,” says Ann about the Albany County-based business. “If she grows up and wants that responsibility and the tremendous rewards that go along with it, then it will be nice to have a legacy to leave her.”

 

And what a legacy it has become. Known throughout the gourmet food world for their fresh and inventive products and recipes (as well as the fact that they do everything, including production, themselves), the company has attracted the attention of the big boys. “At a recent trade show, Kraft and Hidden Valley sent over their people to sample our foods and look at our flavor profiles,” says Ann. Their latest, much-heralded addition to the marketplace? A line of “salad refreshers” — a fruity array of light salad dressings with novel flavors such as Meyer lemon, pomegranate, passion fruit and Key lime. “We’re the pioneers,” says Ann. “Last year we started using black currant, which we think is the next big wave in specialty foods.”

 

The company was originally Enid’s brainchild. In 1989, 15 years after she and her husband moved from a Manhattan apartment to a whitewashed, clapboard farmhouse in Albany County, the former fashion designer began bottling flavored oils and vinegars made with herbs and peppers from her garden. After her wares quickly sold out at local craft shows and farmer’s markets, she began to send samples to buyers in Manhattan under the Wild Thymes label. At that time, the majority of artisanal condiments were imported from Europe, so specialty shops like Williams-Sonoma, Dean & Deluca, and Zabar’s — along with Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue — quickly snatched up the locally produced line. 

 

In the mid-’90s, Enid launched a line of vinaigrettes, chutneys and dipping sauces that utilized offbeat ingredients such as papaya, chilies, and wasabi. Realizing she lacked the business skills to unleash the potential of her small business, Enid approached daughter Ann, who had a background in sales and was a vice president in a sports marketing firm. 

 

Ann had never contemplated a living making food and was ambivalent about the toll a professional relationship might take on the bond she had with her mother. In the end, it was Ann’s husband, Neil, who urged her to take the plunge. “He convinced me that not many people have the opportunity to become an entrepreneur and to work with a family member whom they are already close with,” Ann says. 

 

 The success of this mother-daughter team lies in their individual strengths. Together they brainstorm products they want to develop, then go off to work in their separate domains. Enid spends her day in the kitchen developing recipes, overseeing the small staff that hand-preps and packages the ingredients, and working at the three giant kettles where the 34 Wild Thymes products are made.   

 

“Mom’s a genius at taking a recipe and adjusting the proportions so it can be made in a 150-gallon kettle,” says Ann. “She’s really good at balancing flavors. She never makes anything one-dimensional.”

 

Ann handles sales and marketing and oversees the company’s Web site, sales catalogue, public relations campaigns, and wholesale and retail accounts. One of her favorite jobs is maintaining the on-line database, which contains over 300 recipes that use Wild Thymes products. “We give people creative ways to use our products,” she says. “For instance, cranberries aren’t just for Thanksgiving. We have recipes for cranberry drinks and awesome decadent dessert bars using our cranberry sauces.” Besides her family, Ann tests these recipes on Sarah, her colleague in the sales office; Bill, the electrician; Javier, who helps with the yard work; and the UPS man “if he sticks around long enough,” she adds.

 

In addition to the salad refreshers, Wild Thymes offers a medley of marinades, dipping sauces, chutneys, vinaigrettes, and cranberry relishes featuring unique combinations like mandarin orange basil, chili ginger honey, and apricot cranberry walnut.

 

Many of their products are influenced by the extensive travels that the mother-daughter team have taken together to such exotic locales as Thailand, Botswana, and the Philippines. “As a family that has always liked ethnic foods, we try to take international flavors and adapt them to the American palate,” Ann says. “The products we make are completely influenced by our travels.” Some of the more unique flavors include Indian vindaloo curry dipping sauce, Hawaiian teriyaki marinade, and a Caribbean peach lime chutney.

 

Ann is proud that their products use only fresh ingredients, are all-natural (no preservatives or trans fats), kosher, and exclusively homemade. “When consumers read the labels, they recognize all the ingredients,” she says. “In a world that is so anonymous, it’s important for consumers to also know there is a face behind the product, and a real family that makes their livelihood from the product.” She is also pleased that the company’s foods are so healthy. “We actually have a doctor who orders wholesale from us regularly and retails our products in his office,” she says.

 

The Wild Thymes sales office, based out of Ann’s Dutchess County home, is an hour away from the converted barn where Enid produces the condiments. But executive officer and executive chef talk multiple times each day. While these phone conversations are an intertwined jumble of business and personal matters, it takes only a few seconds before Enid gets down to what’s really important. Not sales, publicity or inventory.  

 

She just wants to know how Peanuts is doing.

 

For more information on Wild Thymes, call 800-724-2877 or visit www.wildthymes.com.

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