Chefs with Issues: Artisanal angst
October 31st, 2012
02:00 PM ET
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Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Emily Myers is the founder of Emily G's, a gourmet jam, sauce and relish line.

I hate the word “artisan." Its use is so prolific that it means little anymore. Now, it is often used to judge the authenticity of food and, admittedly, I spoke this word quite frequently in the early days of Emily G’s. I felt like an "artisan” as I struggled to produce, market, deliver and manage our budding jam company. I was true to my craft as I picked the berries I canned, labeled jars late into the night and, consequently, missed entire soccer seasons. It was brutal but fulfilling at the same time.

This was unsustainable. It became apparent that I could either make the products or manage the company, but not both. However, I was convinced that the authenticity of our food depended on my hands making the jams. Isn’t that what makes me an “artisan” and our jams “authentic”? The reality was that we could not produce enough fast enough to keep up with sales. We were working hard enough to kill ourselves, but making little money. We weren’t returning phone calls. We hadn’t seen our children. We were a company on the edge of implosion.

At that point, we had two choices. We could build a facility and hire people to make the jams - or, we could find a co-packer. A co-packer is a facility you contract with to make your products using your recipes to your specifications. "Co-packer" is considered a dirty word by many people in the local food scene. If you co-pack, you have sold out. Your products are no longer authentic, and you are too big to be “artisan” anymore.

I wanted desperately to build a kitchen that would support our growing business. However, recession and unemployment intervened and made that option impossible. We either needed to shut Emily G’s down or co-pack. At this point, Emily G’s was my job. I was working to put food on our table and there was no way I would quit. We chose to co-pack, and it was a difficult and liberating decision. Letting someone else make our products rattled every control-freak bone in my body, but it allowed me to focus on running the company and growing it, which was critical for our survival and for my family. In the end, it was the right decision.

Do I wish I had my own facility to make our jams? Of course. And maybe one day we will. Do I regret our decision to co-pack? Absolutely not. I won’t apologize for it either. I have gotten plenty of grief for it. Our products are made with the highest quality ingredients, they are all-natural and I stand behind each jar whether it was my hands stirring the pot or not. My jams are no less authentic because my hands aren’t in each jar. In fact, even if we built a facility, I would have hired people to make the jams. In the end, it wouldn’t and couldn’t have been all me. Not if I wanted this company to grow. Not if my goal was to take care of my family.

Similarly, I have eaten at a number of fantastic restaurants when the chef was not there. I did not feel short-changed because she/he didn’t make the dish. I could feel their presence in the food I ate. I didn’t call them a sellout for leaving the kitchen because I understand the impossibility of doing it all, and the importance of finding a way to deliver your foods and grow your business.

I don’t know how big we will become. I certainly hope that we will be big enough to support my family and the families of those that work for me. I believe that my jams, sauces and relish speak for themselves through my commitment to quality. Every jar we sell has a direct impact on my family’s life - it has paid for my daughter’s piano lessons, our grocery bill, my son’s school clothes and more. In my world that is authentic, that is real. Screw "artisan." I have a company to run.



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soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Kristen

    I fully support what Emily's saying here. I can verify, having tasted her jam, that it's amazing. Bottom line, as others have said above: there's no crime in expanding your business, and there are only so many ways to do that. People who would limit the success of others don't need to concern you, Emily–you're doing right by your company, your customers, and your community.

    November 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Misrepresentation

      I fully support her in growing her business. I support her having a co-packer if that's the route she wants to go.

      Emily has opened herself up for criticism by saying, 'screw artisan'. She has recently put her products in events where she's listed as 'artisan'. She also puts her product in events/markets that require the products to be 'handmade' when she clearly is not. The reality is Emily benefits financially by misrepresenting her product.

      In her own words she describes her sauces and relishes as 'artisan'.

      http://www.linkedin.com/company/emily-g%27s-llc/sauces-and-relish-633525/product?trk=biz_product

      November 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
      • Emily Myers

        Wow. Thanks for pointing out an outdated LinkedIn profile. How much time have you wasted on this? It's Friday... Maybe you should go get a drink and relax a little.

        November 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
        • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

          Oh! BURN! In yo FACE, Misrep. IN YO FACE!

          November 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
        • Misrepresentation

          About a minute or so. Google is pretty fast these days.

          Apparently, not as much time as you sat around stewing with 'angst' over the word artisan and felt the need to blog about it.

          The point you keep failing to acknowledge is that you're handcrafted and/or artisan at shows/venue/markets/events when it works for you... It would have been smarter to let your angst against 'artisan' simmer a bit before you came across as fraudulent...

          Now for that small batch, locally crafted beer...

          November 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
      • Emily Myers

        I should also add that LinkedIn shows me everyone that views my profile. Just FYI on that.

        November 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  2. TheTruthIsAlwaysRude

    sounds like a classic locally sourced small batch artisan sour grape jam...

    November 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  3. Randy

    Emily, don't worry about it. Chefs and cooks are the biggest dbags out there. It is a joke. The taste is all that matters!

    November 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  4. KBrad

    Really? Rightous rant or hipocrisy.
    Emily G’s Jam Of Love: Artisan Jam At Its Best. Made by hand in small batches with the finest ingredients, the jams deliver a depth of flavor and texture that are unmatched by most jams we come across. October 30, 2012

    http://thenibble.com/zine/archives/artisan-jam.asp

    November 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Emily Myers

      Believe me.. No one appreciates the irony more than me! I just about fell out of my chair when I saw that this morning. I love that site though and I'm thrilled they enjoy my jam.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • I Say Hypocrite

      Emily,

      http://southerncheesefest.com/eats-drinks/

      You're listed in the Artisan Foods section!!! You attended the event! You posted photos of yourself promoting your company. Your last line of the article should have been, 'Screw "artisan" (unless it promotes my company).'

      Whether it's 'handcrafted' or 'artisan' it seems you're happy with the label as long as it brings your name/branding attention. I respect you trying to grow your name/brand but the blog you've posted here completely contradicts your actions.

      Please don't use the I can't help how people classify me or my product especially when you say screw 'artisan'.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  5. bs1

    Welcome to the real world :) Co-packers provide a very valuable service for small producers, it is very expensive to build and maintain any sort of licensed and inspected food processing plant to proper standards, and one you have it built you had better have it running three shifts or the overhead costs are going to waste. None of the 'botique" brands / products has the volume to keep even a small facility running full time, especially brands that rely on seasonal local produce where you produce a years worth of product in a month and then the facility would be idle the rest of the year.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  6. Joshy McHipster

    Don't worry: I guarantee you not one of these pretentious, hipster foodie D-bags could really tell the difference in how your jam was prepared. They're really just here to congratulate themselves on their sophistication while pretending that stuffing food down their gullets somehow constitutes high culture and moral conviction all in one.

    If you're the sort of person who pays ridiculous prices for everyday items merely because they're festooned with all the finest trendy adjectives, then you deserve to be robbed blind. I hope Emily screws you out of every dime she can get.

    Meanwhile, don't let me ruin your $18 organic, sustainable, locally-sourced, vegan, artisanal, free-range, fair-trade PB&J, sucker.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:32 am |
  7. david

    A good quality product should stand on its own. Organic, artisan, local, whatever. QUALITY is what matters, not labels.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  8. RunRun

    You need to post this at your own website. If copyright is an issue at least link this article on your website.
    As it stands now anyone going to your website will believe that you and Genna (?) make all this stuff on your own.

    Or better yet post videos\photos of the people who ACTUALLY cook, can and pack all that jam. But I won't hold my breath on that one ;)

    I did some soul searching before deciding to post this comment critical of Emily. I see her as human being struggling to take care of her family. And the system is so skewed against the "little guy" that maybe I should just let it pass. But "Screw "artisan." I have a company to run." is too "Shark Tank" for me.

    November 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Emily Myers

      I will absolutely post this on our website ( which is currently being rebuilt and hopefully ready soon). I am glad this piece promoted all this discussion. It's a good thing. I'm not bothered if folks take issue with it. I'm an open book when it comes to my company and I'm happy to answer any questions.

      I wouldn't hold your breath on the pics from inside my co-packer – they won't allow that.

      November 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • mique

        Emily,

        In retrospect, at what point of frantic would you have gone with the co-pack option, knowing what you know now.

        November 3, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  9. DMD

    I applaud small business America for grinding it out no matter what it takes to bring their vision to the market. For those of you who negatively criticize how someone does that you should either get in the game (which would lend your opinion some validity) or just shut the hell up. Why does buying "artisan" products have to mean getting "handmade" items from someone who lives below the poverty line and mortgages their children's education because they are following a dream? Just because you think its their passion they should toil in obscurity and poverty producing you wonderful products one at a time? Ridiculous. What is your passion? Do you do it for free? Don't throw stones.............I think you know the rest.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  10. Newspeak

    More pretentious foodie BS from some of the posters.
    The word Glutton became Epicure, then Epicure became Foodie, but the meaning has not changed. A complete waste of time to care so much about fussy food and fussy coffee when there are way more important things that talented, artistic people could be doing. Good on you Emily, to look at the big picture of building your business to provide for employees and family. Bad on you fussy food types for accusations of selling out.

    November 2, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  11. Cheif Keith

    First, kudos for attempting to grow your business in this economy...

    I have seen your product in places where it's a requirement to be handcrafted... Obviously from the article and 'screw artisan' approach you are not handcrafted yet you still put your product in places where it's thought the items purchased are handcrafted... I can list these places if need be. So, it would seems as though you present yourself as the 'screw artisan' type for the CNN crowd but are all too happy to take the money of those who want to support 'artisan' on a local level. Talk about having your jam and eating it too!!!

    November 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Dan I

      Her products could and likely still are "handmade." Just because contracted with a co-packer doesn't mean the product isn't made by hand, it just isn't HER hands. The issue was that she didn't have the money to build her own facility to produce the product so she had to contract with a third party to take that on.

      November 2, 2012 at 11:31 am |
      • Cheif Keith

        Dan...

        The terms we are talking in are 'artisan'... Are we going to debate the definition of 'artisan' and 'handmade'? They are in fact synonyms. Petty semantics do not make your argument valid...

        Nor does your stance negate the fact that her product is in craft fairs/markets where the requirements are to be handmade by the person which reflect the artisan appeal to the consumer. Good for her to try and grow her business but the 'Screw Artisan' sentiment should be noted. Don't pass yourself off as artisan/handmade when it convenient to make money and say 'Screw Artisan' when it looks cool to the CNN readers...

        November 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Emily Myers

      Once are product was no longer "handmade" I did not present it as such. I believe in full transparency. I do not lie. Once my product is in a store I can't be held accountable if a salesperson lies to you about it. That's a shame if it happens, but I can promise you it's not coming from me.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
      • Emily Myers

        I mean "our" not "are". I'm setting up at a show and on my phone so I apologize for misspellings.

        November 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
      • Hypocrisy

        Without much effort I found you are in 2 places this weekend that require you to be a handmade/handcrafted product and the vendor had to make it! Marietta Farmers Market and Marist Christmas Show. I'm sure you informed the folks that run these 2 venues that you were co-packed and they let you in. Or perhaps you didn't let them know! Or perhaps they are your friends and let you in because it's a nice thing to do but not necessarily the right thing to do. Either way, you're still rubbing elbows with the same people you were all to happy to 'screw'. I am sure after realizing these 2 events were not intended for co-packed products you will gladly back out as it's the right thing to do.........

        November 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
        • Emily Myers

          Both know perfectly well what I do and how I do it. Kudos on your research (checking Facebook). If you go by Marietta say hello to Fara. My husband is at Marist. I'm in DC working a different show.

          November 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  12. maddiemom6

    Dear Emily, Bravo for making the right choice for you and your life.. the lives of those who work around you and your family. While I adore good food ( and did not know of yours until now!) I am rather ill in the extreme about people getting all twisted up about it as some sort of freaking badge of courage to stay poor and small.

    What good would it have done if you were forced out of business.. one more great product lost to the market and a family without an income. With tight control on your part using a Co-packer is an ideal solution. It not only provides an income to your family but also employ's those who work at the Co-packer.. what more could we want of small business as part of a larger recovery effort not to mention the effort to bring better food to the masses.

    When I develop a pattern I don't then print each of them myself like Gutenberg on a press in my basement.. I send it to the place best able to do a great job printing it at the best price so that I can provide a product for those who want it.. I could never turn out enough of my items otherwise.. this is not cheating or selling out. It is giving up a bit of control and I totally get that and how hard it is... Good to you for facing that.. again hard choices done right.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    November 2, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  13. Craig

    So in the end you wind up paying $10 for a jar of the same jam your grandmother used to make for pennies. When granny used to do it it was considered corny. Now it's hip and artisinal. Give me a break!

    November 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. Squeezebox

    Emily, did you ever consider raising your prices as a way to control demand? You could have hired a bookkeeper and a packer and continued to make the products yourself. Not many people are truly great cooks, but lots of people can do packing and shipping. What made you choose the management end rather than the production end?

    November 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Old Enough

    Emily, If the product is what you imagined, and meets your expectations (quality) then it is your product regardless who makes it. The road was long and hard for you, others would have quit a long time ago. Kudos to you

    November 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  16. CherylH

    Sounds like you have a product people like to the point you couldn't keep up with growing demand. It makes sense to me that you found the right co-packing partner to meet that demand. The key is to keep the same level of quality now as when you started. Calling someone a sell out is nonsense. Reminds me of when I was in high school when some only liked bands before they got popular. As soon as they made it big, they were called sell outs...

    November 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  17. Bob

    Sellout!

    November 1, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Pat

    Emily, if you control the process then you own the process. I see no reason for anyone to be critical of your decisions. Unless they've walked a mile in your shoes, then no one has the right to jump on you for making a choice that you believe is best for your family. And, the people who think what you're doing on an 'artisan' level is equivalent to Tositos slapping 'artisan' on a bag of tortilla chips are completely dense.

    November 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  19. Emily Myers

    Thank you for your comments. I'd like to add some clarification about copacking. Every co-packer is different. Some have great reputations some don't. I work with a co-packer with a wonderful reputation who allows me to maintain a great amount of control over the ingredients and process. These are my recipes and its made exactly to my specifications. This is non-negotiable for me.
    The quality is exceptional -as good as when I made them myself. If the quality was not there, I wouldn't put my name on the jar. I would rather close my business than bring a poor quality product to market.

    There is a place in this world for products that are handmade as well as those produced in a factory setting. We are lucky enough to be able to make that choice. I applaud all fellow small business owners, especially in food. It's a tough road to walk but so worth it.

    November 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  20. Truth™

    我点击!

    November 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  21. Rolanda

    Thank you for this article. We have been wrestling with that same decision. My time is consumed with developing new recipes and marketing. It just became impossible to make the product all on my own and do these other things.

    November 1, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  22. Julie

    What is your oversight process and how do you know the co-packer is making the jam according to your specifications?
    I don't think "artisan" means it has to be made by YOUR hands, but it does have to be hand-made - and NOT industrially produced.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • whorhay

      I think that is where high quality control values come into play. To me "Artisanal" food is more about how it was designed or invented. I wouldn't consider most grocery store bread artisanal because their concern is usually in developing a product that they can sell for as much profit as possible which means using the least expensive and lowest quality ingredients that they can get away with. In an artisanal product I expect high quality ingredients and that it was designed or invented for some purpose other than pure profit. There is of course nothing wrong with trying to make profit on artisanal products, but I expect the quality of the product to always come before increasing the profit margin.

      Maybe we need the FDA or someone to establish standards for what Artisanal means in clear text. Although that would probably result in as worthless of a definition as we have now for Organic.

      November 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  23. Bob

    If the quality of the product reflects your original passion and recipe, then I don't see anything wrong with growing your business to sustain your family and others. Ignore the bitter detractors who have commented here.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Jerv

      Completely agree, Bob.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  24. Tiffany

    I too am disappointed by the move in big business to use "artisan" as a selling point. That being said, I see the value in locally made, artisan goods. Those items are produced in small batches, from fresh, quality ingredients, by individuals that are passionate about what they do. While you may still be very passionate (it seems from this post), you don't discuss how your jams are just as good as artisan at this point. I personally think there is a difference between small, controlled batches made from just-picked fruit, and larger scale commercial production using concentrated ingredients. It's not just about who makes it, it is so much more than that. Every small business owner has to make difficult decisions at times, and you chose to do what was best for you, your family, and your company moving forward. But "screw artisan?" How quickly you seem to have forgotten where you came from.

    November 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Just plain tired

      The "passion" argument drives me a little batty. It is as if saying if you are passionate about what you do that should be enough to satisfy you – screw making a living wage. Like wanting to make a sustainable living somehow negates passion or cheapens what it is someone does. It is the same argument used to justify low pay for jobs like educators, implying educators should do it because they are passionate about teaching, not for the paycheck, so it is okay if they are not well compensated. What's wrong with wanting to make an actual living at what she is passionate about? Why does that automatically make you suspicious about her product or question her commitment to passion? Seems like You want people to make good products for you to enjoy, but you want them to suffer for their passion to make it for you. Seems a little short sighted to me.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  25. chef dean

    "Our products are made with the highest quality ingredients, they are all-natural and I stand behind each jar whether it was my hands stirring the pot or not. "

    Are they better or at least as good as before? If so, then bravo. If not, then co packing is selling out. Nothing in the only statement about quality of your current product speaks plainly to that point. Not having tasted your product before or after, I cannot personally comment. Bu then again, you don't comment either.

    November 1, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  26. Jerv

    "Screw "artisan." I have a company to run." Right on! Great read, thank you.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:22 am |
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