One of the things Tammy Ridenour, owner of Blue Ridge Brittle Co. in Brevard, loves most about her business is watching the reaction of people when they taste her treats at area farmer’s markets. “They’ll put it to their mouth and their face lights up,” she explains. “What a reward, after all the hard work, to see someone enjoy it so much. They’ll say, ‘My dad used to make it,’ or ‘My grandma used to make it.’ One customer sent me a picture of a jar his grandmother used to put peanut brittle in at Christmas, and now they put my peanut brittle in that jar.” (go HERE to return to the Sweet & Savory main page)
Her love of making peanut brittle began in middle school. She learned how to make it in her home economics class, and says it was such a big hit in her family that she continued making it, especially at the holidays. “I grew up in Arizona, so it was very dry. Making peanut brittle was easy.”
When she moved to Brevard 11 years ago, she encountered some difficulty in making her peanut brittle due to the humidity. “I Googled and found out things I could do to create my own atmosphere,” Tammy recalls. “I got some dehumidifiers and closed all the doors and windows. Once I understood what was happening, then I realized I could be more in control. I can now make brittle even on a rainy day.”
The hobby began to grow into a business when her daughter took some to school with her at Blue Ridge Community College and people started asking to buy it.
“The next step was to get my kitchen certified,” she says. “I got online and figured out how to do that. I first checked with the city to see if I was in a neighborhood zoned for running a small business out of my home. I then made an appointment through the agricultural department for an inspector to come out. You can’t have a lot of tchotchkes on the countertop. No bugs or vermin of any kind. No indoor pets. The refrigerator has to be kept at a certain temperature. No lighting that could break and fall into the product. It wasn’t quite as hard as I thought. I felt like there were good, strict rules—mostly you just have to maintain a clean environment.”
By the end of 2013, she was ready to start selling at the Brevard farmer’s market. Since that time, she’s expanded to the Whistlestop Farmer’s Market in Cedar Mountain, a farmer’s market in Cashiers, and at Rocky’s Soda Fountain at D.D. Bullwinkel’s in Brevard.
“The hardest part of this business is being able to handle it all. I’m not a numbers person. It’s also scary to learn to promote myself and my own product. My husband has a full-time job, but he helps a lot with packaging. We’re trying to expand and I’m trying to get my husband to quit his job. He would love to go to A-B Tech and go through their culinary program. He loves being in the kitchen. I also want to get a website sooner than later because that will help us grow and provide general information. We’re hoping to accomplish that soon.”
Tammy says that she currently spends about two days a week making the brittle and the rest of the week packaging, labeling, and selling. She has three varieties: peanut, pecan, and jalapeno. “One batch takes about an hour. I’ve been able to keep the quality by quadrupling one batch. That probably makes an average of 20 eight-ounce bags. I usually have two going at the same time, but I stagger them. I’m pouring one out where the other is getting to a good clip of a boil. Once you pour it out, it has to completely cool. My table is about two feet by five feet and it will cover the table completely.”
Tammy was a single mom when she made the leap to leave Arizona and move to North Carolina. She discovered the area while on vacation and thought the natural beauty was amazing. One of her daughters had graduated from high school. The other was a high school junior, and, like her mom, was ready for a new adventure.
At the time, Tammy was making a living as a house flipper. “I’m very passionate about decorating and that translated into buying poor little homes. I have a vision and can see what it can be. I like to take something horrible and bad and turn it into something good. As a house flipper, I could easily move—I could do that anywhere.”
Now she uses her decorating skills for creating beautiful booth displays to sell her brittle. She met her husband at church and they married eight years ago—a love-at-first-sight story. He has since become Blue Ridge Brittle’s official taster, and nothing goes out of the kitchen without his approval.
“He really likes the brittle,” she says. “One of his favorites is the jalapeno. It’s really tasty. He is the quality control guy.”
Contact Ridenour and find out more about Blue Ridge Brittle Co. at www.facebook.com/blueridgebrittle.
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