Utah pepper jelly business takes off in Summit County
By Tom Wharton The Salt Lake Tribune
Homegrown • The company has evolved from small home kitchens to a full production plant in Wanship.
Wanship • When company founder Michele Trover began selling Pepperlane jellies in 1990, she worked out of small rented kitchens and even in the basement of the Wanship home she and her husband Mike built on the Old Lincoln Highway in this small Summit County town.
You might say the business has grown a bit. Nowadays, the Trovers and company co-owners Rod and Sandra Weese produce
14 varieties of the pepper-based jelly in a new state-of-the-art facility near the Trovers' home.
Despite the new facility, each jar of jelly is produced by hand.
Rod Weese often begins his shift at 5:30 a.m., mixing 15 to 20 batches of one of the "condiments with a kick" the company produces.
On a recent day, after employee Elma Portillo hand-poured each batch into small glass jars, Rod quickly screwed on lids. Sandra, who is also the company's marketing and sales manager, labeled the jars and draped each one with the signature piece of hand-cut cloth.
Michele Trover said her 84-year-old neighbor Dot Young cuts each of those cloth squares.
The facility can produce about 500 bottles an hour, Rod Weese said. It uses about 5,000 pounds of sugar and 1,200 pounds of jalapeños each month.
On a normal day, the company produces 15 batches, but on this late December day, 20 were needed to meet demand from Associated Food Stores throughout Utah, other grocery stores in 17 Western states and catalogues such as Williams and Sonoma and Jackson and Perkins. The company also fills orders on its website, http://www.pepperlane.com.
Depending on the store, the jars usually sell for between $7 and $8. Their most common use is as a condiment put over a brick of cream cheese and served with crackers. But Pepperlane has recently published the second edition of a cookbook that promotes use of its jellies to make appetizers, salads, side dishes and main courses. Trover, for example, said that Mother of Onion flavor makes a great topping on barbecued rib-eye steaks.
The company started simply.
In 1979, a friend gave Trover a recipe for jalapeño green jelly, which she altered slightly.
"I wanted to make it have more texture, with more peppers in it," she recalled. "I began giving it to neighbors and friends with a block of cream cheese for Christmas."
She began selling the product in 1990, often working out of small kitchens she found in Summit County and eventually in the basement kitchen of her new home.
"I grew tired of making the same thing day after day," she said. "I was working a part-time job and my kids were little. For the sake of sanity, I tried something a little different. I tried putting cranberries in the jalapeño recipe. It was pretty good and a variation of the original. Year after year, I try to come up with a new and different flavor."
Thus were born flavors such as pepp'ricot, hot-blooded orange, blackberry buzz, raz-pepper, first- and last-date roasted garlic, ginger with a snap, peppers in paradise and cherry bomb.
"Once I got to the point where I was doing all of the steps on my own downstairs, my kids and husband would come in after and clean," Trover recalled.
The Weeses came on board as business partners in 2009, and the company eventually moved into its new production facility in Wanship. Rod had worked in the restaurant business for about 20 years and at the time was laboring as a remodeling contractor.
"Our business partners enabled us to really grow," said Trover, who isn't involved in production but works on product development and creating new flavors. "There is no way I could have done this without them."
Rod Weese said many potential customers are reluctant to try the jellies for fear that they will be too hot. "I tell them to try it," he said. "They are smitten. It proves that jalapeños are a wonderful flavor and not aggressively hot."
One new product is using even hotter habanero peppers, but Rod assures customers he is careful not to make things "stupid hot."
Judging from how hard the Weeses and Portillo were working on a recent late December morning, Trover's recipes have proven to be the basis for a successful business.