Fredericksburg entrepreneur Adrian Silversmith initially ignored advice he got from the University of Mary Washington’s executive director for economic development.
Brian Baker told him earlier this year that he should close his Sprelly Café lunch counter at the Made in Virginia Store in downtown Fredericksburg, and concentrate on production of his Sprelly line of gourmet nut butters and jellies.
“I scoffed, because things were going well for us with brand recognition,” said Silversmith, whose products received accolades from USA Today and Entrepreneur.com after they were displayed at the 2018 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.
But Baker’s advice forced him to realize that the café took up 80 percent of his time and energy, yet accounted for only 20 percent of his business.
“If my goal is to be a nationwide PB&J brand, maybe being a consumer-packaged goods business is what we are,” Silversmith said. “We were missing out on an enormous amount of opportunities, wholesaling opportunities, online opportunities.”
A number of businesses between Washington and Richmond had been asking him to wholesale Sprelly to them, he said, but he’d been too busy running the café, selling the nut butters and jellies at farmers markets, and squeezing in time to make and package his products. He also couldn’t afford to switch from the clear plastic tubs he’s been using to package his products to the glass jars with a version of the colorful Sprelly label that he created as a prototype for the Fancy Food Show.
Still, giving up his original dream of opening a chain of Sprelly Cafés, an idea that won him the People’s Choice Award and $250 at the “The Made in FredVA Business Plan Contest” in 2013, was so stressful that Silversmith said he broke out with shingles. He ended up asking Lynne Richardson, dean of the University of Mary Washington’s College of Business, if he could give a presentation to a group of the college’s business professors before making the decision.
They, too, agreed that he needed to focus on production.
“Just being able to talk to them was helpful,” he said.
Silversmith converted the café space at 920 Caroline St. into a production- and sales-only facility over the summer, and sank the money he made selling his sandwich-making equipment into supplies, including glass jars.
“I want to migrate away from the use of plastic,” he said.
Silversmith added that he’d like to introduce a recycling program that would allow customers to return their jars for a discount on their next purchase. The jars would be cleaned and sanitized for reuse.
The three best-selling Sprelly nut butters—Breakfast Blend Peanut Butter, Sweet Thai Chili Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Almond Butter—are now available in jars, along with the three jams that pair best with them. The white labels with bright orange and purple lettering make it easy to determine which jams go best with each nut butter. Customers simply have to line up the little toast symbols on the side of the labels.
“If the icons marry up, that’s a recommended pairing,” Silversmith said as he showed how the one on a jar of Sweet Thai Chili Peanut Butter and the one for Strawberry Champagne Jam didn’t match.
That pairing, he said, wouldn’t be as delicious as ones with that nut butter with either Aloha Jam, which is reminiscent of a Piña Colada, or Triple Berry Jam, whose ingredients include blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Silversmith and his wife, Casey, who helps out with production and sales, have already started selling those products on their website, sprelly.com, as pairs or in bundles. They’ll also launch a Sprelly of the Month Club, which includes such perks as discounts and pre-releases of new and seasonal flavors, in January.
The Silversmiths plan to have four more nut butters and an equal number of jams available in jars instead of tubs, soon. Their goal is to create a total of 10 to 15 nut butters and jams, along with some additional products such as a crepe mix.
They already have a couple of accounts with stores in Richmond and Washington, as well as some in the Fredericksburg area. Adrian Silversmith would like to work with some other food service businesses that could use Sprelly products as ingredients.
“I’d love to be in touch with local doughnut shops and have a Sprelly doughnut, or Sprelly PB&J on their menus,” Silversmith said. “That’s also being worked on, as well.”
Looking back over his journey getting Sprelly off the ground, Silversmith said that his original idea for a chain of sandwich shops has proved to be a “put the cart before the horse move.”
“We feel that we can reach a broader market this way,” he said.
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407