Moni Schiller, Fruitcake
When I told people I was going to start a fruitcake business, they looked horrified and responded with, "Why?" It's really hard to say, but in retrospect I can only trace it back to my early beginnings. I always loved making Plasticene food for my Barbie dolls, and adored baking in my Easy-Bake Oven. As I always say to people, my initials aren't the same as Martha Stewart's for nothing!
However, as my parents were practical people, I became a teacher of the deaf and got my first job in Prince George. To pass the time I would experiment with homemade mayonnaise and pate, Sacher torte and cheese soufflés.
After five years in the frozen North I returned to UBC and got my Masters degree in Education. I continued teaching the deaf, got married, and had two children. One day in 1990 when we were returning to Vancouver from a visit to Osoyoos, I suggested to my husband Denis that we should ditch everything and start over in the Okanagan, specifically Kelowna. For some unknown reason, he agreed.
While we were extremely glad to be raising our boys in the Okanagan, it was hard to find that first job as teachers of the deaf were not needed here. Fortunately, in 1992 I started a business with a partner as a government contractor.
As fate would have it, in 2004 my business partner and I received a contract to assist people with disabilities to do entrepreneurial exploration and planning. To understand this better, we attended a two-day workshop at Community Futures. Rather than just pretend I had a business idea, I decided to test something that had been on my mind for a few years. I wondered if I could make a living from selling fruitcake.
In 1995 our accountant, Marian Berry, had given me some of her fruitcake as a Christmas gift. It was the best fruitcake I had ever eaten, so I asked her for the recipe. I began to make it and gave it to people as gifts, and they in turn swooned and said it was the best fruitcake they'd ever eaten, too.
The workshop convinced me that it could work, so I decided to start. After a great deal of deliberation and angst, I came up with the name Nuttier than a Fruitcake for the business, which my husband and children curiously described as "so you."
My first season was 2004, and I sold 240 'Totally Decadent' fruitcakes. I felt that the name was appropriate as it really is a beautiful product. It is made with glace fruit, chunks of gourmet chocolate, real butter and eggs, gently roasted pecans, and is soaked in brandy after being baked. I've been told many stories by customers of how the last piece was hidden from family members.
In 2005 I attended a few Christmas craft fairs, and they were hell. I discovered that asking someone if they wanted to sample fruitcake was like asking them if they wanted a bit of arsenic. However, those people brave enough to try it always seemed to buy it. I needed the help of a friend for all the baking, and I ended up selling 1,000 fruitcakes that year.
Because some health-conscious people had asked if I made a fruitcake with dried fruits instead of glace, I did some experimenting, and early in 2006 I came up with Okanagan Harvest Cake. This is made with Valley fruits such as apricots, pears and apples. It also contains chunks of gourmet chocolate, has almonds and is soaked in golden rum. The cakes are then vacuum-sealed and when they're opened they're so moist they're almost juicy.
I gave one to the nice man who makes my boxes. On a later visit he told me he'd had no lunch that day, so was starving, and hence ate the entire Okanagan Harvest Cake. He said accusingly, "I was dizzy!" Whose fault is it that he ate the whole thing? He's always trying to get me to get rid of the word 'fruitcake' in my product, as he says fruitcake carries such a bad connotation, and my cakes are actually good.
Last Christmas I sold just under 4,000 fruitcakes. Part if this was due to a corporate order from Nokia Canada, which I received as a result of my web page. I was also thrilled to see that stores that had ordered previously easily ordered again. As marketing can test the nerves of the hardiest entrepreneur, it really is nice to get repeat business.
Because my sales are now quite brisk, I had a commercial kitchen installed in our house, which allows me to work away whenever the mood hits. However, like all small businesses, I also shop for the ingredients, market the product, package, ship and deliver it locally. I therefore often find myself praying to The Muse of Entrepreneurship for motivation!
This spring I became bored and decided I wanted to find a product that could be sold outside of the Christmas season. I therefore re-packaged the dried fruit version and called it Okanagan Fruit and Rum Bar. I had the label designed by someone who emailed me apologetically that he didn't really like fruit cake. As you may know, my motto is "Turning Fruitcake Haters into Fruitcake Lovers since 1996."
I sent him a sample, and soon after I received an email from him with the subject line, "You did it!" He said he'd eaten the entire thing, said it was "really, really good" and ended with "So now if you can just convince the rest of my kind you'll be rich."
And really, what would life be without this kind of a challenge? I could have started a cupcake or cookie company, but that would've been too easy. This way, as I convert one person at a time I have a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. So maybe I really am Nuttier than a Fruitcake!