Today we’d like to introduce you to Carey McMillan.
Carey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have making preserves for as long as I can remember. Helping my mum and my aunt put up the produce from our gardens and fruit trees. I taught my neighbor to make grape jelly when I was nine. Jams, jellies and marmalades have been my usual Christmas gifts for a long time. I got my Master Preserver’s certificate when my daughters were in 4-H. I started Paradise Preserves because I lost my job, thank God I had good insurance, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. I was out of work longer than twelve weeks so they let me go. It was a large national corporation and I had been taking a break from working as an Executive Chef in Malibu, trying a job with regular hours, weekends off!
So here I am, jobless, Cobra health insurance premiums eating up most of my unemployment check, looking for a new gig. Not a lot of kitchens/ restaurants eager to hire a 50 year old female (we’ve come a long way baby- but not that long). A friend asked me to consult on her new business plan, making jelly and selling in farmers markets. To keep my brain from atrophying I said ‘sure’. We eventually became partners. She eventually needed to spend more time at home so I picked up the reins and ran with it. I now have a 300 square foot shop in Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. I have been there since they opened 6 years ago.
I make preserves seasonally and get most of my produce from small family farmers and certified backyard growers. I trade with them, so by business has a relatively low overhead for product cost. They give me produce and I give them back a portion of what I make. I produce about 40 flavors throughout the year with about half of those available all year long… I am blessed to live in California where so much wonderful produce is available.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The tough part was the farmers markets. The product I make weighs about 17 pounds a case and I would have to load, unload and reload and unload again for every market. Also, it is very expensive to be in a farmers market. Your stall rent, a percentage of sales plus $101 per quarter for every market you are in to the Health Department. Plus gas and wear and tear on the ol’ auto. It’s a tough thing, especially with one lung.
I was excited at the prospect of my own brick and mortar shop, so Crafted was a really good thing for my business. I did have trouble getting jars when the port workers struck in 2015 I think it was. My jars were stuck on a ship in the harbour. I have very faithful clients and I sent the word out that I needed jars and jars started showing up at the shop. I usually give a 25 cent credit for returned jars toward the next purchase, but people just kept leaving the jars they were collecting in my shop. I finally found a company that had some but they were more than the usual cost. I now order my jars by the pallet and have them delivered. I love my customers!
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Paradise Preserves and Provisions story. Tell us more about the business.
I make jam, jelly, marmalade and preserves from locally grown produce. I have a cadre of helpers from my daughters to culinary students who help me with production. I can always gather a few friends to help me pick produce at farms if needed.
I am known for my unusual flavors. It is because I use what I get and I have to be creative while keeping my eye on the market to make sure what I produce sells. My best seller is Lemoncello Marmalade, made with Meyer lemons I also make a Kiwi Daiquiri, Blackberry Champagne, Champagne Hibiscus, Pluot, this Mango walked into a jar, Cranberry Jalapeno, Strawberry Margarita. I also make the ones that are the more common single flavors, Malibu Strawberry, Raspberry, Merry Berry, Pomegranate, Peach, Nectarine, Apricot etc.
I am proud that I have made connections with growers and have kept this a very organic process. I make all my own product. These are not my recipes that I send to a co-packer to make. I want to be involved from the picking to the jar. My preserves taste so darn good because I use produce that is really ripe, just like our grandmothers did. Too ripe to eat is perfect for me. As long as produce is not bruised or mush I can use it and you can tell because the flavor of my product is really spot on.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I prefer to call what I have experienced as divine intervention, not luck. We were looking for a kitchen when I we started and a good family friend with a cafe let me use his after hours. Shared kitchen rentals in Los Angeles are astronomical and seldom benefit the budding culinarian/ chef. I recently came across one that was quite well thought out though, so maybe the times they are a changin’.
The other amazing thing was Crafted. I was born and raised in San Pedro. The biggest cul-de-sac in the world, the last bastion of affordable oceanfront real estate, and the edge of L.A., whatever is your preference. To have the waterfront re-development (albeit slowly) happen here, with Crafted, the Battleship Iowa, Alta Sea, to name a few is wonderful. I do not have to commute to my work. My kitchen, my shop, my home and my family and friends are all here. Okay, some of friends are in Redondo Beach or India or Morocco, but most of them are right here. And that is indeed a blessing.
- Most everything I make is $8 in the shop, $9 on the road at events like the Candy Dance or Harvest Festival
- I make Whiskey Caramel sauce that is $10 It is a HUGE seller and it is really good.
- Occasionally I get something exotic that takes some extra care, like Passion Fruit, and then it’s $10
- Address: Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles
112 East 22nd Street
San Pedro, CA 90731
- Website: Paradise_Preserves.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @paradisepreserves
- Facebook: _paradiseprreserves