CLARKS SUMMIT — Things are heating up fast in the kitchen of Chris and Lauren Calvey, where the Clarks Summit couple can often be found chopping Carolina reapers or habanero peppers, along with other fresh ingredients, for their special puree.
It all started off as a small quest to see if they could come up with a good recipe for their own sauce. But with requests for jars of the puree soon coming in faster than they could send them out, and with an interest from the television show “Shark Tank,” the Calveys had to come up with a plan to keep from growing themselves out of business before they are even in business.
So they launched an online fundraising campaign, which can be accessed at kck.st/2dRz7NU, to raise money to re-work their packaging and branding and engage a co-packer, in order to offer the product commercially.
“As many of our current backers, friends and family already know, we were contacted by ‘Shark Tank’ to appear on the show, which is incredible, although we had to defer to a future season,” reads the Kickstarter page. “A great concern of ours is often called ‘the Shark Tank factor,’ that involves having much more demand to the point we are not able to fulfill our orders.”
Various levels of donations and incentives are available in the fundraiser. For example, those who pledge $15 or more will receive one jar of the Calvey Kitchen Puree, and those who pledge $2,000 or more will receive 20 cases of the product, along with a handwritten note from and in-person meeting with the Calveys and honorable mention on their website.
Hot and hotter
Calvey Kitchen currently makes two varieties of the product: a habanero puree and a Carolina reaper puree. Both are hot, but with distinct flavors.
“The habanero has a little bit less heat and a slightly different flavor,” Chris Calvey said.
“They’re both good, but the habanero one…is a little bit easier to blend with things,” added Lauren Calvey.
She said her personal favorite way to use the habanero puree is in guacamole, but they put it in “everything but ice cream.”
“We put it in scrambled eggs, we put it in with mayonnaise on sandwiches, we put it on chicken breasts, we put it on steaks, we put it on French fries.”
She explained the Carolina reaper has more heat with a “sort of smokey” blend.
But neither product is meant to leave a long-lasting burn in one’s mouth.
“The heat really doesn’t linger,” Chris Calvey said. “It does come on, but then it kind of dissipates. …and the flavor is overwhelmingly delightful.”
Diving in to business
Chris Calvey, 29, works as a funeral director for his family’s business, Jennings Calvey Funeral and Cremation Services, Inc., and Lauren Calvey, 31, is a therapist at the Scranton Counseling Center. Both are both volunteer rescue divers with the Springville Fire Company.
It was at a dive training event that they first got the idea to start making the puree. A friend of theirs brought his own ghost pepper puree to the event for people to taste. When he tried it, Chris Calvey said he noticed it had a lot of heat, but not much flavor.
“So I thought, if you can do this, I could probably do it,” he said. “I started messing around, trying to get it balanced out right, where I could see the right flavor, add a little sweet, add a little savory. …One thing led to another, and I had a lot of people who were ‘guinea pigs’ for me, tasting it left and right, and it evolved that way.”
Once they found that “happy balance,” the started branding the product.
“We had some ideas, we tossed around names, worked on that a little bit,” Lauren Calvey said.
They settled on “Calvey Kitchen” and started experimenting with different jars. They worked together with the labels and branding until they came up with a design they were satisfied with. They started giving jars of the puree away and selling it at production cost to friends.
The need for more
Then those friends started asking for more.
It was a hit – more so than they were prepared for.
“If we wanted to produce it in-home, we could get it to maybe a handful of people, because we both have day jobs,” Chris Calvey said. “But it’s just not feasible if we want to have the outreach we’re actually going towards.”
With the Kickstarter funds, he said they plan to “completely renovate the packaging for the product.”
They plan engage a co-packer and switch to a universal six-ounce jar that is compatible with co-packing machines.
In a year from now, they said they hope to see their product in all the local grocery stores and specialty stores. Further down the road, possibly within a five-year window, they hope to expand to a national retail market. As soon as the Kickstarter campaign ends, they also plan to start offering the purees for sale on their website, calveykitchen.com.