Up close with: Carol Hay

| 04/04/2019 | 1 Comment
CNS Local Life
Carol Hay in her pepper patch

(CNS Local Life): Carol Hay officially started her pepper jelly business in 2007 after what began as a hobby two years earlier. Experimenting with various ingredients and amounts, she finally perfected the secret recipe to her iconic jelly, which includes a blend of home-grown Scotch bonnet and four other peppers, plus 16 more ingredients. Still cooking the jelly in her kitchen, wearing a mask and snorkel to protect herself from the potent fumes, Hay is committed to running the business out of her home to maintain the integrity of the process. While that prevents mass production, she is fine with that as her focus is on the quality and consistency of her gourmet Pepper Patch jelly. Hay recently put down her snorkel to answer a few questions.

CNS: Between working fulltime as officer manager for your husband’s company, BrittHay Electric, and cooking your jelly all weekend, how do you squeeze in time for fun?

Carol Hay: I gave up my office manager job at BrittHay Electric after my husband’s untimely death five years ago. Although I’m still actively involved with the company, I do not have the day-to-day responsibility of running an office. As a result, I’ve expanded my pepper jelly business and I now make jelly four times each week to keep up with demand. I have no free time as such but when I do, I tend to spend it gardening which is my hobby/passion/obsession! Being as I grow all my peppers what spare time I do have is spent tending to my pepper patch.

CNS: What has it meant to you to create your pepper jelly and develop it into a recognisable Cayman brand?

CH: I’ve always been an entrepreneur and creating new businesses is nothing new for me. The trick is knowing when to sell, merge or call it a day. I must say that Pepper Patch has given me personal satisfaction and receiving high praise for my product both at home and abroad has given me the strength to keep it going. I’m still very much a one-man band as, despite its hefty price tag, my little cottage industry company cannot afford to employ anyone. Ask me this question at midnight when I’m lidding and labelling the jars and I might give you a different answer!

CNS: Do you ever anticipate bringing in someone to help with jelly production?

CH: Absolutely not. That would mean sharing my formula and method and I would run the risk of someone stealing the recipe. I’ve been in Cayman for over 45 years and if it’s one thing I’ve learned is that people here have a very copycat mentality. Rather than invent something new or different they tend to duplicate, in some fashion, something that is already here.

CNS: What has been your greatest challenge in your journey as an entrepreneur?

CH: Getting validation and endorsement in Cayman. Very early on, I got rave reviews in the foreign culinary world from famous chefs and restaurants who want to buy my product in bulk. Due to the logistics of doing this I have had to decline all offers. The actual production of my jelly is extremely labour intensive. I have toyed with the idea of taking it out of my kitchen into a purpose-built facility but the costs associated with such a bold move far outweigh the reward. If I was 20 years younger I might have taken the leap of faith. I’ll leave any expansion plans for Pepper Patch to the next generation.

CNS: What, if anything, would you do differently, if you could?

CH: At the risk of sounding cocky, I wouldn’t do anything differently. All the mistakes I’ve made have been valuable learning tools and I wouldn’t be here today without making these blunders. If someone had told me to do something differently, I’m too bullheaded and wouldn’t have listened to them anyway! Experience is the best teacher even if it comes at a price.

CNS: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

CH: I don’t have any single great achievement. Each experience and success I measure according to the period it happened and if it was the right decision at that time.

CNS: What would you advise a young person who wanted to start their own business?

CH: Now that’s a loaded question. Firstly, they would need to understand that owning one’s own business requires long hours with extremely little compensation at the start. DO NOT borrow loads of money and get into debt…unless it’s a helping hand from family. It took me five years to turn a profit and win customers.

Despite the advantages of social media and all the platforms now available to businesses, I found that beating the pavement and meeting with prospective retailers was the most effective. Face-to-face meetings trump all other promotion platforms. Above all, do not be discouraged by naysayers – there’s a lot of them out there. Case in point: 90% of people that 12 years ago refused to stock my product, now give me prime shelf space. Don’t take rejection as a final answer, see it as a challenge. On the other hand, don’t be so blinded by the will to succeed that you end up losing it all. Know when to change direction or simply quit.

CNS: What is one thing you would like everyone to know about you?

CH: That my bark is worse than my bite!

This is the third in a new, but not necessarily regular, series focusing on some of the interesting people who call Cayman home.

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Category: Food, Up close

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Love her product!

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