New at the Co-op: Hillside Harvest

Have you ever considered what it takes to start your own food business? It is no secret that fulfilling such a goal can be an immense undertaking, particularly for a single person. First and foremost, it requires a novel idea for a delicious new product, as well as the determination to share it with the world. The greatest innovations are always born from the heart and having the passion, knowledge, and skills necessary to realize those dreams can reveal exciting new opportunities and open doors that were once inconceivable. Indeed, this is the easy part. It can be simple to dream big, especially when you care deeply for your craft, but planning and executing the many steps required to get the business started requires a substantial amount of effort and steadfast commitment. Likewise, having an abundance of resources (such as hired staff and raised capital) is also helpful for business owners to get started on the road to success, however, these advantages are not always plentiful or even available.

Oftentimes, every aspect of a fledgling young business will rest squarely on the shoulders of a single person. In these cases, the sole employee must handle everything from research and development to financials, branding, and sales. This is certainly no small feat, which is why we feel so inspired by the stories of independent food producers who have achieved big things while keeping their operations both modest and locally focused. Kamaal Jarrett’s story is one such example—as a budding local Massachusetts entrepreneur hailing from Jamaica, his combined experiences, passions and creative knowledge gave him the necessary components to achieve success as a one-person business in the highly competitive condiments industry.

Kamaal Jarrett, the founder of Hillside Harvest Gourmet, is a true cooking aficionado.

Born in a small town in the Red Hills high above Kingston, Kamaal Jarrett grew up surrounded by one of the world’s most renowned and distinctive food cultures. He spent many of his formative years living near the famous “Hip Strip,” where roadside vendors and small food markets sold succulent jerk dishes with Caribbean rubs and spices that helped comprise the flavors of his youth. After moving to Milton, Massachusetts with his parents a few years later, he discovered a serious love for food. Kamaal would spend countless hours absorbed in his craft, working summer after summer alongside his aunt and mentor in her Egleston Square bakery and Caribbean restaurant just outside of Boston. As his skills strengthened and expanded, so too did his passion for all things culinary. He soon developed a strong sense of appreciation for the two very different cultures in which he was raised, and over the years he grew fond of sharing traditional American dishes with his family while cooking authentic Jamaican dishes for his friends. Before long, Kamaal began to explore how to join those two worlds together in order to launch a business doing something he truly loved. He focused on creating handcrafted condiments, which led him to his perfect niche—North American-style hot sauces with a Caribbean finesse.

We spoke with Kamaal to discover more about what makes his condiments taste so superb. He revealed not only a great deal more about the origins of his business but also what it’s like to be a Jamaican immigrant starting a business in the United States, as well as his plans for the future of Hillside Harvest.

Q: How did you become interested in making sauces, marinades and condiments, and what was it like for you to turn this passion into a business?

A: My passion for cooking started as a young child watching cooking shows, trying to recreate recipes, and working in my aunt’s restaurant during the summer months. I’ve always toyed with the idea of starting a career in the food space, but it wasn’t until my last job working as a Product Manager at Keurig Dr. Pepper that I realized I had the confidence to make the leap. The decision wasn’t made without a great deal of planning and preparation, so once I decided to focus my efforts full-time there was very little regret.

Cypress Hall, located high above Kingston, Jamaica in the Red Hills, has inspired many of Kamaal's creations.

Q: You were raised in both Jamaica and Massachusetts—two very different cultural experiences! How has this unique upbringing inspired you and shaped the flavor profiles of your sauces?

A: Having the duality of both Jamaican and American cultures to influence my upbringing has been extremely impactful on the sauces we create today. Growing up, I was able to experience and appreciate the two cultures through many vehicles, my favorite of which was food. Experimenting and sharing unique takes on traditional dishes with friends and family has always been something I’ve loved doing. Today, that same love is what is now at the core of what we do at Hillside Harvest.

Kamaal's journey through food has shaped the taste profiles of his sauces and marinades to combine a world of flavors.

Q: What is your development process like for creating new flavors, and how do you decide what to make next?

A: The process for making the sauces (or any product) can vary. Ultimately, I start with the consumerhow do I want them to feel when tasting the product? How do I imagine them using the product? Once those questions are answered, I try to hone in on a few flavor profiles that will fit the attributes I’m trying to achieve for the customer. From there, this process takes on a significant amount of trial and error to get the taste just right.

A snapshot of Hillside Harvest R&D, with Jamaal testing out a new marinade recipe!

Q: What kinds of simple, natural ingredients do you use in your recipes that aren't found in other sauces?

A: We use ingredients like scotch bonnet peppers, organic pineapple juice and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s not that these ingredients haven’t been used before, but rather that we’ve crafted them together in such a way where their taste profiles are both delicious and unique with natural, recognizable ingredients.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to using Hillside Harvest's gourmet flavored sauces! Here are just a few:

on Chicken Wings
on Tacos
with Deli Meats and Cheeses
with Breakfast
on Oysters
with a Healthy Snack

Q: What are some of the challenges you've faced as a BIPOC-owned business, and what can we do to make our food system more equitable?

A: In my opinion, access is a huge tool to help pave the way for a more equitable food system. From the perspective of the consumer, access can mean greater food security and fewer food deserts. For the manufacturer, access can mean equitable access to mentorship, funding, etc. Ultimately, there isn’t one clear cut answer, but I believe democratizing the system is a good place to start.

Hillside Harvest recently became a Shift Fellowship partner. The program empowers BIPOC food business owners by offering access and resources for a more diverse and equitable food economy. (source: Associated Buyers)

Q: What are some of the challenges and rewards of operating a one-person business? What advice would you give to another chef seeking to follow a similar passion?

A: In my experience, the most rewarding part of operating a business on my own has been the freedom and flexibility with which I am able to execute against any given objective. It is definitely not something that lasts forever, so I’m enjoying it while I have this level of autonomy. On the opposite side of that coin, in order to grow and/or become successful, you need a strong team. I’m looking forward to building that team and immediately being able to get more done.

One piece of advice that I can share with others looking to start their own business is to run your numbers, validate your idea and then get moving. Fail fast and pivot, if needed. “Analysis paralysis” is real and I’ve learned a ton more from my mistakes than I have from any pre-launch analysis.

Purchase Hillside Harvest sauces at the co-op and help support this outstanding local business!

Throughout our collective food history, people have always sought fun and creative new ways to enhance the flavors of what they eat. At the co-op, we absolutely love all the hard work Kamaal Jarrett puts into making his hot sauces taste absolutely perfect, and so we’re thrilled for the opportunity to share them with you! Small, independent businesses like his deserve our support because we know he crafts each and every bottle of hot sauce by hand, and with quality in mind. Kamaal is always focused on the satisfaction of his customers and developing delicious sauces made from the best wholesome and natural ingredients for intensely delicious flavor—not just heat. You can find all three of Hillside Harvest’s gourmet hot sauce flavors, Pineapple Fresno, Sun-Kissed Tomato and Original Hot Pepper, now in stock at River Valley Co-op. Give them a try on your next meal today!

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