by Steve Wilson
Even a business focused on preserving can welcome change. After five years of sharing her garage, living space and car with endless jars of jam and the equipment that helped make them, Confituras founder Stephanie McClenny is ready to expand, but not in the usual way. Sure, the new commercial kitchen space will be large enough to share with other like-minded food artisans, and yes, there’ll be a retail shop (biscuits and jam!), but McClenny has also taken pains to turn the space into an incubator project to help those in her field who aren’t quite as ripe. “Whether they’re already working out of their home or they just have an idea for a food business, we’ll help small, woman-owned businesses make their product in a commercial kitchen, and sell it there, too,” says McClenny from her perch at a picnic table by the chicken coop of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, where she’s just stocked up on ingredients.
McClenny says she wants to give these women what would have helped her five years ago. This includes not just a workspace with sliding-scale rent, but mentorship from the other food makers in the building. She also plans to bring in speakers to discuss contracts, accounting and other subjects helpful to a budding entrepreneur. When McClenny took her community kitchen idea to Kickstarter, she reached her $20,000 goal in just eight days. She soon set her sights on a stretched goal of $30,000, with plans to use the remainder for the incubator portion of the project. “Not only will this help us offset huge building costs, but it also includes the community,” she says. “They’ve invested in us more than just financially.”
Confituras will open its world headquarters somewhere in South Austin by the end of 2016. McClenny plans to take on one incubator candidate the first year, “so we can make mistakes together,” before expanding the program from there. In spite of the new growth, though, she doesn’t foresee growing the reach of her own product line or distribution. She intends to stick with five to 10 flavors of jellies and jam each season, and never stray too far afield of the Hill Country, where many of her jams’ organic ingredients are grown, or from the family of local markets where her goods are sold. “We’re proud of what we’ve created here,” she says. “It’s not important for us to be in every Target around the nation.”
For more information, visit confituras.net.