The Popcorn Bag

Posted by Editorial / Thursday, October 16th, 2014

The Popcorn Bag

Photo courtesy of The Popcorn Bag.

Gist: Sixty-plus flavors of popcorn

Who: Jim Ford, 57, a retired Marine Corps musician

Started: In 2009 “when the economy tanked, people couldn’t afford beauty treatments,” says Ford, so his girlfriend (now wife) Helen Ford, an esthetician and massage therapist, looked for a new line of work.

Inspiration: When Helen visited Dallas with her sister and left a popcorn store, surprising herself by spending $25 worth of kernels, her sister suggested they open their own shop in Houston. Now married and living together in Fredericksburg, Ford replicated his wife’s business model and opened The Popcorn Bag in January 2013; Helen is back to esthetics.

Details: “We can match any kind of food, or dish, in popcorn,” says Ford, who employs oils, seasonings, spices—and the real thing—including actual bacon, chocolate and cheese, to create wide-ranging flavors. His time stationed in Japan influenced his next batch of flavors: wasabi soy ranch, seaweed and green tea. The Popcorn Bag makes three types of flavored popcorns: savory (bacon cheeseburger, coconut curry and chicken and waffles); candy and caramel; (sour watermelon tastes just like a Jolly Rancher); and specialty (birthday cake, orange creamsicle and salted dark chocolate caramel).

Next: By the end of this month, Ford hopes to open his second location, also in Fredericksburg, in a bigger space that will allow him to double capacity and introduce online ordering. /  —Stefanie Gans

(October 2014)

VA Made: Balsamo’s Family Kitchen

Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Balsamo’s Family Kitchen (The Extended Balsamo Family)

The Extended Balsamo Family. Photo courtesy of Balsamo’s Family Kitchen.

The debut product, 7 Salad Dressing, also works as a dip, marinade and sauce for pasta.

Tamara Gallik, a single mother of seven children between the ages of 12 and 31

When Gallik’s husband died suddenly five years ago, she had never worked outside the home. The first two years “I was in shock,” she says, then her oldest son Jonathan Balsamo “tried to encourage me to go out into the workforce and I was hesitant. I always told him, ‘Find what you love to do and figure out a way to make money doing it. And you will love what you’re doing and it won’t feel like work.’ And he kind of turned that around on me.”

Based on her sister’s red wine vinegar and oil dressing, Gallik reworked the recipe to be “spicy, yet sweet,” says Gallik—adding cayenne and turmeric—and has been making it for the last 10 years for family and friends. “They want it in an IV,” she says. Gallik officially started the company last fall and sells the dressing online and at area farmers markets.

The name represents many sevens in Gallik’s life, the number of spices in the dressing; the number of children she has; she’s the seventh youngest in her family of 20 brothers and sisters; and it’s “God’s favorite number,” says Gallik, “it means angelic perfection.”

“That’s up to God,” says Gallik. As for her business, “try another dressing.” / balsamosfamilykitchen.comStefanie Gans

(July 2014)

VA Made: Shenandoah Spice Company

Posted by Editorial / Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Shenandoah Spice Company

Photo courtesy of the Shenandoah Spice Company.

Gist: Herbs and seasonings, blended by hand

Who: Nick Crabill, 33, and childhood friend Josh Burrows, 34, started the company in the early aughts and Burrows’ wife Megan, 28, joined the operations a few years later. When the two had been dating for a couple of months, Megan remembers seeing: “random things that said ‘Rub It In’ and I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘Alright it’s been long enough, I can find out what this is about.’” Once she learned about the spice company—and its naughty tag line—she encouraged them to sell at farmers markets.

Started: Canoeing on the Shenandoah River, Crabill told Burrows he needed to fill shelf space and boost retail at his family’s butcher shop, Crabill’s Meats, opened in 1962. Burrows, a recent culinary school graduate and then-chef at Bryce Resort in Mt. Jackson, suggested selling private-label seasoning blends at the butchery.

Inspiration: From that conversation on the canoe, Crabill and Burrows developed three initial blends to enhance different meats at the butchery, including selling pre-seasoned meats.

Details: Many of the spice blends start with customer requests, especially salt-free concoctions. Burrows researches using spice encyclopedias and barbecue recipe books and then tests each blend using grilling, baking and sauteing methods.

Next: Jalepeno-based Hot Monkey Sauce, the company’s first foray outside of spices, will debut this year. /  shenandoahspicecompany.comStefanie Gans

(June 2014)

VA Made: Virginia Chocolate Company

Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

By Stefanie Gans

Virginia Chocolate Company Habanero Chocolate Bar

Photo by Mike Ramm.


Virginia Chocolate Company Peanut Butter Bacon Chocolate

Photo by Mike Ramm.

Gist: Chocolates (40 flavors), truffles (400 flavors), jellies, brittles, barks and fudges handmade in Stafford

Who: Former paralegal Tim Douglas, 42, opened Virginia Chocolate Company ten years ago.

Started: “I hate to admit it, but I was really good at my job,” says Douglas at his time at the (now defunct) debt-collecting firm Mann Bracken, where he helped sue 40,000 Virginians in one year alone. After almost a decade there, he quit right before Christmas. Needing money for presents, he sold hand-dipped truffles, a skill he picked up from a French chef at his foster mother’s restaurant Le Petit Chef in Vermont, more than 25 years before.

Inspiration: When a customer requested a rose-flavored truffle, Douglas thought it was too floral: “It was like getting my mouth washed out with soap.” He remedied the garden-overload by resurrecting the scented memories of his two months living in India, mixing cardamom with rose oil.

Details: Labeled “Very Hot!,” the Spicy Habanero milk chocolate bar uses chilies from the Falls Church Farmers Market, cream from a small farm in Pennsylvania and for extra heat, the notoriously capsaicin-concentrated ghost pepper. “I’m a little sadistic with that one,” says Douglas.

Next: Expanding into a bigger facility, opening kiosks in local malls (Springfield, Fair Oaks, Tysons) and offering calico (combining milk, dark and white chocolate) Easter bunnies.

(April 2014)

VA Made: The Essential Table

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

The Essential Table's selection of jams

Photo courtesy of The Essential Table

Gist – Savory jams engineered to enhance dinner party fare—for the gourmand or the kitchen-afraid.

Who – High school (in Martinsburg, W. Va.) and college (West Virginia University) friends: Bethany Allen-Perez, 34, and Beth Lehman, 34.

Started - The two lost touch when Allen-Perez moved to Atlanta for an interior design job, but when she moved to Winchester the two reconnected. With both acquiring master degrees in marketing, their dinners turned into brainstorming sessions about starting a business. By mid-2012 they decided on a line of jams.

InspirationAfter trying a burger topped with onion jam, Allen-Perez remembers thinking: “It’s sweet. It’s savory. It could go with pizza. It could go with cheese.” She says, “We wanted to create something that could go on any menu.”

Details - Allen-Perez and Lehman conducted focus groups on 10 jam flavors. The first success: Bourbon Onion Jam, which started as a bacon onion jam until, as Allen-Perez explains, “putting a meat product in a jar is pretty much impossible.” Instead, Allen-Perez, the cook of the operation—Lehman jokes, “I just sold my house and I could have sold it as ‘Kitchen Never Used.’”—turned to bourbon as the main flavor. They sold their first jam last April.

NextRed Wine Onion and Peach Serrano jam debuts next month. And eventually: pickles, drink mixes, serving trays and, says Lehman, “everything that encompasses a dinner party.”/ theessentialtable.comStefanie Gans

(February 2014)

VA Made: Basic Beverages

Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Photo courtesy of Sarah Schultz-Taylor.

GIST: A cold-brewed concentrate for less bitter coffee.

WHO: The Qura siblings: Christina, 27, and Tim, 25, of Warrenton. 

STARTED: In June, when Christina, then working in New Mexico as a massage therapist, emailed Tim an article about cold-pressed coffee and asked if he wanted to start a company. Timothy, who just the day before thought about opening a brewery, said, “OK, sure, that sounds awesome.”

The Quras come from a restaurant family: their parents owned Verona, an Italian restaurant in Manassas, and her mom now runs Cheesecake Heaven Drive Through in Warrenton.

INSPIRATION: Christina suffered from what she calls coffee belly—“It makes my stomach burn”—and acid reflux. She looked into drinking alkaline water, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, can neutralize acid in the bloodstream.

DETAILS: The flagship product, a coffee concentrate, uses alkaline water from Fauquier County infused with a medium-dark blend of Mexican and Central American beans roasted in Alexandria. For 24 hours the grounds sit in 37-degree water at a 7.5 pH level. The slow infusion creates a less acidic liquid. Four ounces is the equivalent to a double shot of espresso or a cup-and-a-half of coffee.

NEXT: Creating tea and super fruit juices using alkaline water. / basicbeverages.comStefanie Gans

(December 2013)

VA Made: Picky Eaters + Three Moms + Vitamix = Ice Pops

Posted by Carten Cordell / Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Photo courtesy of Heather Engen

What started as simple breakfast smoothies for their children has turned into a full-fledged business. Cecilia Showalter, Heather Fruzzetti and Bree Murphy started TruMoms LLC, a healthy snack business selling TruPops, a frozen puree made from fruits and vegetables.

“We know that parents want better options for their kids, both for convenience sake and to get rid of the daily battle,” says Showalter. “You want to feed your kids something healthy and what’s out there for them is filled with a lot of junk.”  

The moms (part-time professionals—lawyers, corporate strategist) used their days off for brainstorming. “We try to include one vegetable and one superfood in every pop,” says Showalter, with the ubiquitous strawberry and the trendy chia seeds making it into the formula.  Afterschool snacking has gone foodie./ $3, trumomfoods.blogspot.comRachel Sanez

(September 2013)

Gearharts Chocolates Peanut Butter Pups

Posted by Carten Cordell / Friday, May 24th, 2013

Candy honors companion dogs.

By Lindsey Jenkins


Courtesy of Gearharts Fine Chocolates

Tim Gearhart began his culinary career as a line cook in Kuwait serving 20,000 Marines a day. After leaving the service, Gearhart graduated from culinary school and for the past 12 years owns chocolate shops in Charlottesville and Richmond.

Now that Gearhart has a 4-year-old, he wanted to create a more kid-friendly environment in his stores. “I came up with the idea for a little peanut butter pup,” says Gearhart, who blends Virginia-based Reginald’s Homemade peanut butter into a creamy, sweet filling for the inside of the chocolate candy—with dark chocolate eyes and nose, and toasted almond ears.

Gearhart often donates his creations to local auctions and wanted to use the pups to raise money as well. “We didn’t seem to be getting much traction with places like the SPCA,” says Gearhart, who then found out about Companions For Heroes (C4H).

Air Force vet David Sharpe started C4H after he returned from Pakistan and began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The violent outbursts and depression began to take its toll until the day Sharpe met Virginia shelter rescue dog, Cheyenne. The tiny pit bull quickly became Sharpe’s best friend; C4H now helps other vets find their Cheyenne. Five percent of the profits from the peanut butter pups go to the non-profit.

But what’s Gearhart’s son think? “He loves them [but] he doesn’t even want to eat them because they’re so cute.” /


(May 2013)

Apinya Thai Chile Hot Sauce

Posted by Jennie Tai / Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Herndon couple bottles spicy, globe-trotting memories.

By Jennie Tai

Courtesy of Apinya Thai Food Co.

“When Apinya and I started dating, we’d cook for each other,” Adam Ross remembers. “She cooked Thai dishes from her childhood, while I cooked dishes I had while traveling to Peru, India and Greece.”

Inspired from his now-wife’s interpretation of hot sauce, Ross bottles an achingly fiery blend.

The graphic designer-turned chili-experimenter named the company after his wife. The sauce’s bold flavors can be traced back to a rural town five hours from Bangkok, where Apinya “grew up harvesting and prepping fresh ingredients for her mother’s restaurant in Khon Kaen,” says Ross.

“We want to create unique flavors,” Ross says, “like a Thai-Peruvian combo, or blend of African spices.”

The inaugural sauce’s texture of minced ginger and garlic amidst specks of cilantro and basil will make this a standout compared to the boringly smooth commercial options. It’s an all-natural answer to sour, vinegar-based hot sauces and scores a 75,000 on the Scoville chart, about five times hotter than jalapeños.

Though the first few batches were made from imported vegetables, Ross strives to “source every ingredient as locally as possible for the next batch.” / Apinya Thai Food Co.;


(March 2013)

Valentine’s Day Bites

Posted by Carten Cordell / Monday, February 4th, 2013

Local chocolate with a kick.

Courtesy of MC2 Confections

Chocolatier Meredith Cohrs knew what she was looking for when developing her spicy chocolates—something pleasantly sweet, followed by lingering heat. “I wanted the spice to grow and build and then really knock your socks off,” says Cohrs, a Naval Academy graduate, former government contractor and now full-time owner of MC2 Confections. “I like bold flavors.”

Four trials of choking on spices and then not packing enough punch, eventually led to the successful Aztec Heat spice blend, a combination of cayenne pepper, cinnamon and ancho chilies infused into Belgian chocolate discs. The chocolate bites earn “a silky feel,” says Chors, “followed by a kick.”
Another Valentine’s Day sweet was inspired by a chocolate bar with pop rocks and strawberries she tasted at the restaurant and chocolate boutique, CoCo. Sala in Washington, D.C.

A fan of Red Hots, Cohrs “loved the way that those bright red dots made my mouth scream of fire but make me want more immediately.”
Cohrs mashes Red Hots and blends them into white chocolate discs. “I thought it could be really fun to incorporate the ‘old school’ candies we all had as kids into an artisan chocolate,” says Cohrs.

—Melissa J. Lyden

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