102 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
Peanut brittle isn't exactly considered a gourmet treat, but Milli Jordan is hoping to build an empire around the simple dish.
She's doing it all from her Lacey Grace Gourmet Foods storefront at 102 Clarks Bridge Road in Gainesville.
The company was started in 2001 by Rebecca Clanton, then a Gainesville resident, using an heirloom recipe from her maternal grandmother. Clanton has since relocated, but she's still a shareholder in the company.
"We use the original recipes, but we've also come up with a couple of new, seasonal recipes. Like for the fall, I came up with a toasted pumpkin seed brittle with cinnamon," said Jordan, Lacey Grace owner.
"We're only going to do that one three months of the year - September, October and November. I want to be the Cadbury for toasted pumpkin seed.
"We've come up with a few new flavors, but what I realized is most important is to stay with the flavors you know and do them perfect. I'm a fanatic about it."
Being fanatical has paid off and brought Lacey Grace's traditional Southern candy to the attention of the queen of Southern cuisine, Paula Deen.
"We did a (market show) in Atlanta in January. On the last day, Paula Deen's stylist came up to us and said that every year they pick a product from the show to feature in her magazine and asked if we were interested. We were ecstatic," Jordan said.
"So, we're going to be featured as a ‘Hidden Find' in the December issue. If Paula Deen picks you, you know you've got something."
According to Jordan, the "something" that caught Deen's eye was probably one of the company's main ingredients - butter.
"We are butter and lot's of it. That's why Paula Deen likes us. She's butter, butter, butter," Jordan said. "The humidity and heat is just killing (our shipped orders) right now, so if it's in the Atlanta area we're delivering it or meeting halfway."
Initially, Jordan says she was hesitant about getting into the brittle business.
"I met (Clanton) through a mutual acquaintance. We went out to lunch one day. Just a bunch of divorced women trying to figure out what we were going to do. (Clanton) said that she did cakes and a phenomenal brittle," Jordan said.
"I said ‘Brittle? What the heck is brittle?' And she says, ‘It's a real Southern candy. It really was like the poor man's candy because you always had sugar and you always had butter and some kind of a nut in your cabinet. That's basically what brittle is.'"
Realizing she had a skeptic on her hands, Clanton invited Jordan to see the candy sales in person.
"She said she was doing a show at a high school and invited me to come see what it's like. I went and the reaction from people was amazing. They would put this brittle in their mouth, take three steps away and then come right back.
"I'm thinking this is a fluke, so I went to another show and the same thing happened again. At this point, I'm thinking this is really, really good. So I decided to invest a little money in it. Instead of the festivals and fairs, I wanted to do something more."
Since attending the Atlanta show in January and again in July, Jordan says business has really begun to take off.
"We've got orders coming in from everywhere. We're available in 37 states," Jordan said.
"We're in hospital gift shops and we've been accepted into Whole Foods. We're going to start with the one in Johns Creek.
"And we're talking to Trader Joe's, which is big because it's my understanding that if you get one store, you get into all of their stores instead of growing from region to region."
Although they haven't quite reached that point yet, when business really booms, Jordan has already come up with a plan to accommodate the extra orders. And it doesn't involve bringing in commercial, candy machines.
"My girls can produce 100 pounds a day. I have two stoves now, but I have enough room in my kitchen right now to bring in eight more stoves. I've already purchased the third one now," Jordan said.
"We tried cooking in on machines, but they compromise the flavor of it. We do it the old-fashioned way. We do everything by hand. It's a very labor intensive process because we cook it on the stoves, we pack it and label it by hand."
The orders can be placed online, over the phone, or by stopping by the storefront on Clarks Bridge Road.
Currently, the company specializes in varieties of pecan, peanut, cashew, sunflower and almond brittle. They also have whipped up a milk chocolate toffee. Next on the agenda is a line of Lacey Grace ice cream toppings, created from the leftover pieces of brittle that are too small to sell.
"We want to have zero waste," Jordan said.
Now, Jordan says she's happy she came aboard, especially since being at the helm of the company has been a breeze.
"It sells itself once you taste it," Jordan said.
"Everyone says the candy is addictive."