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Eat and Drink

Brewing the American Dream program helps launch NYC food businesses: Salty Road Taffy and more

When Jessica Spaulding was a kid, her mom didn’t want her eating sugar. So they made a deal: If Spaulding made her own sweets, she could eat them. She had no idea that this bargain would turn into a career.

The New Yorker launched Harlem Chocolate Factory in 2014, and quickly gained fans of her chocolates and confections.

“The more people tasted the products, the more the name got out, the more inquiries came about,” Spaulding said. “Suddenly, I needed to ramp up production. I needed money.”

Jessica Spaulding, Owner & CEO of Harlem Chocolate
Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Spaulding, pictured above, didn’t qualify for a traditional bank loan, and that’s when she discovered Brewing the American Dream. Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co., started the program to mentor small business owners and to provide microloans through a partnership with lender Accion. Since its founding in 2008, the program has provided mentoring to more than 7,000 small business owners and awarded more than $16.5 million in microloans.

The drive to give back and help small business owners grew out of Koch’s history of pitfalls and errors in getting Boston Beer Co. off the ground in 1984.

“I didn’t know the nuts and bolts — payroll, hiring sales people and drivers, packaging,” Koch said. “If I messed up, I would’ve tanked the whole business.”

Koch was lucky enough to learn on the fly, asking bar owners and other business owners how to tackle certain challenges. And those are the tips that are passed on through the mentoring program, he said.

Spaulding used her loan to buy equipment and supplies to increase production, and she plans to open a storefront on 138th Street and Seventh Avenue in early fall. The mentorship she’s received has made all the difference, she said.
“They find ways to support you, to make sure you don’t fail,” Spaulding said. “I know what I’m doing. I’m not gonna fall on my face!”
Here’s a look at three other NYC businesses that made it to the big time with help from the program:

Salty Road Taffy

Marisa Wu of Salty Road
Photo Credit: Salty Road

Marisa Wu had been making candy at home for years. While working at a friend’s organic produce stand in the Rockaways, she had an idea. “I noticed the lack of salt water taffy — there just wasn’t any,” she said. “And there wasn’t anyone really doing it in an upscale way, with natural ingredients and no artificial flavors.” So Wu started pulling taffy in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen. Word got out, and she needed to take the next step. That’s when a friend told her about Brewing the American Dream. “When you start out, you want to do everything yourself. But I was hemorrhaging money and I really needed a loan,” said Wu, who used the money to buy equipment and move to a new factory space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in February. She now has several employees, and sells Salty Road Taffy in hundreds of stores nationwide. “We also ... just sold out our first deal with QVC,” Wu said proudly.

Swig + Swallow

April Wachtel, founder of Swig + Swallow
Photo Credit: Swig + Swallow

While working as a brand ambassador for Bacardi, April Wachtel knew her job could be easier. Preparing and making large batches of cocktails for events was far too time consuming. “I was cutting all the fruit and batching everything up, and thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to do this,’ ” she said. That’s where her idea for pre-made cocktail mixes was born. Her Swig + Swallow brand of artisanal cocktail mixes come in specially marked bottles. Simply add booze up to a line on the bottle, fill water, shake, and pour over ice. “Most people, when they make cocktails at home, add too much alcohol,” Wachtel said. “This foolproofs the process.” After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Wachtel used an Accion loan to buy an industrial juicer and open at a business incubator spot at Brooklyn Foodworks in the Pfizer Building. 

Brewla Bars

Rebecca and Dan Dengrove, founders of Brewla Bars
Photo Credit: Samuel Adams

Growing up in California, siblings Rebecca and Dan Dengrove were huge ice pop fans. As adults, they weren’t impressed by what they found. “They didn’t taste like anything,” Rebecca said. “So Dan decided he wanted to reinvent the ice pop.” After incorporating in 2010, the two spent a year perfecting their recipes at the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s food incubator. Their ice pops are made from brewed ingredients, such as cold brew coffee and teas, and organic fruits. A friend told them about Brewing the American Dream, and with an Accion loan and money from family, they ramped up production and made their first sales to Fairway supermarkets. The mentoring was a huge help, Rebecca Dengrove said. “We had no experience in public relations or sales. It’s been fantastic for us.” So fantastic, in fact, that last year, Ruby’s Naturals, maker of Ruby Rockets ice pops, acquired Brewla Bars.


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