Interview with Monica Droz of Monica's Confection Connection
Our next interview is with Monica Droz of Monica's Confection Connection. Her and her husband make amazing peanut brittle and it was awesome to have it as a part of our box. She and I talked about the peanut brittle cooking process, the trial and error of coming up with new recipes, and more. Let's get this going!
Tell me a bit about yourself, Monica's Confection Connection, and how you got started?
MONICA DROZ: We are Monica and Thomas Droz. We met while working as fisheries biologists on commercial fishing boats out of Dutch Harbor, AK. After getting married we realized that living apart 8 months out of the year was not conducive to our idea of married life. We had experimented with making peanut brittle during some of our time off and after many nudges from family and friends, decided to try to make a business out of it. It took six months before we were able to both quit our jobs and it has been our sole income for 6 years now.
I can imagine 8 months at a time being very tough! And 6 years, that's awesome. :) So making peanut brittle started as a just for kicks kind of thing until all the encouragement from friends and family. Had you ever considered starting your own business prior to that?
MONICA: We both come from families who own small businesses so although we didn't have a plan to open our own business, the possibility had always been on the table.
What's the process like for creating peanut brittle?
MONICA: We began by stirring small batches by hand, eventually making 100 pounds of brittle a day. The physical requirements of brittle making soon became too much and we invested in a commercial candy kettle. The process is still the same except with a lot less pain.
How do you come up with new recipes? Is it a lot of trial and error or do you have a specific method when it comes to creating something new?
MONICA: It is fun to experiment with new recipes, especially when it only takes a few batches to get perfection. Other times, it’s a lot of trial and error. Usually one of us has an idea and then we work together to formulate an initial recipe. From there we add a little, take a little or just start over. Our friends and family have all become official taste testers and we appreciate all their honest opinions.
I'm sure they love that job! Have you ever had recipes that you weren't sure about that ended up being great? Or ones that you thought would be amazing but weren't as good as you expected?
MONICA: The recipe that I am the proudest of is the Holiday Spice Brittle. We use several spices in this brittle and I was worried that the ratios would need a lot of alterations. It came together really well though and only took 2 trial batches to achieve perfection! It is our most popular brittle October through December. We tried a wasabi brittle a few years ago that we just couldn't figure out. I thought it tasted amazing but we just couldn't get the flavor of the wasabi to shine through so we scrapped the idea.
Describe what your first year of selling at markets was like and how it made you feel?
MONICA: Our first year of markets was a lot of hard work. We did and continue to do a minimum of three markets a week during the summer. Each market day we load our vehicle, drive to the market, set up our tent with weights (most vendors have lost at least one tent to wind in Alaska), put up signs, set up our displays and sell for 8 hours with a quick 5-minute break here and there if you get a chance. Then we break down at the end of the day and do it again. The first year was tough because we had put a lot of our savings into our business and we had no idea of what to expect. We made so many mistakes that looking back I can’t help but laugh. We did persevere, learn a lot and are still in business today.
I can totally see that with the tents, thinking back to any of our super windy days. I'm glad that you persevered because now we get to have your tasty brittle. :) Perseverance and patience are definitely something that I've found is extremely important when you're starting a business and it just goes to show that you're going to make mistakes but that doesn't mean that you can't accomplish what you set out to do. Based on all of that, do you have any advice for someone who's thought about starting a business but is scared to take the next step?
MONICA: My advice would be to make sure to have enough capital to not only cover the startup costs but also to live off of for the first year. I've seen many businesses not succeed because there are so many unexpected costs at the beginning and they just didn't have the funds to continue.
I read on your website that you've had a retail store at the Wasilla Frontier Mall for a bit now. When was it that you realized that you were outgrowing your situation and needed to expand?
MONICA: Buying the candy kettle was the turning point for us. We needed a permanent home for it and the space to produce brittle at a much higher pace.
(Editor’s Note: They still have this location, but it’s just for cooking now, there is no retail component. Per Monica, if you knock on the door, you’re still welcome in.)
I also saw on your website that you're in the Cobb Street Market as of last year. Was it always the plan to expand in that way as well or was that something that just sort of organically happened?
MONICA: We are a small company with fewer resources than larger ones so going into wholesale was not our initial plan. We enjoy the people at Cobb Street Market and it has been a good fit and a great way for our product to be available year-round to our local customers.
Out of all of your products, do you have a favorite?
MONICA: I really enjoy the foodie aspect of food but I think it is important to remember the traditional flavors of foods to have a standard to resort to. Our peanut brittle is that for me. It has the softer, crunchier texture that makes our brittle different from others and the strong flavor of peanuts leaves no doubt to what I am eating.
Any products on the horizon that you can tease for us?
MONICA: We are always experimenting but we do have one in the works that hopefully we can debut this summer.
Sounds great! Definitely tag us when that debuts and we can do a little shout-out about it in the Facebook group.
MONICA: Sound good, I'll definitely tag you when we get our new brittle out!
What was it about The Bear Box that made you want to be a part of it?
MONICA: In my opinion, Alaska is a treasure trove of artisans. We have long cold dark winters to perfect our talents and the creativity that comes out of the woodwork is inspirational. I think that The Bear Box recognizes that and appreciates the hard work and dedication that these crafters exert.
Anything else that you haven't mentioned yet that you'd like to? Words of wisdom?
MONICA: We have had an amazing journey getting our business to where it is today. We have had a tremendous amount of support from Alaskans supporting Alaskans and we are so grateful. We hope to continue making brittle and creating new flavors for years to come. Who knows, salmon might find its way into our confections!
Just want to give a big thank you to Monica and Thomas for being in The Bear Box. I've had the regular peanut brittle, so next up is trying out some of the spicy varieties. :) If you want to try out some of those other varieties for yourself, make sure to check out her website and/or her Facebook page.