VA Made: The Essential Table

Two friends make revolutionary jam to go on anything.

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.

Inspiration – After 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.

Next – Red 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)