I live in Taylorsville, Utah, and my factory is in nearby Sandy, Utah. I was born in Santa Clara, California, to Jeannie Renee Jones and Jesse Vincent Paiz. I have one sister and two brothers. At the age of 15, my mother passed away from cancer, and my siblings and I were spread out to live among different family members. I moved in with my uncle and aunt, Robert and Nancy Ann Jones. Nancy Ann, along with her sister, Julie Baker, changed my life’s course; they took me in, loved me as one of their own, taught me family values, hard work and integrity. Nancy is a fabulous cook and helped me gain a love for fine cooking using premium ingredients to get the best results, Julie is also a foodie pro who specializes in sweet treats—Julie runs a cake shop in Campbell, California, and helped me develop my old family caramel recipe to what it is today. Now, my company, JulieAnn Caramels, is lovingly named after them, and I think about them with every batch of caramel I make. They not only gave me their caramel recipe but a recipe for life. It is my goal to be in a position soon where I can take care of them as they took care of me years and years ago.
I grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs. My grandparents owned an antique shop in San Juan Bautista, California, where I spent many summers. My husband, Frank, is also an entrepreneur, in the transportation coordinating / third party logistics (3PL) field. I think I have always had an inner passion to be an entrepreneur as well, as I’ve loved helping both my grandparents and husband succeed in their businesses. I’ve also loved helping my children succeed. To me, there’s nothing more fulfilling than working hard and seeing the fruits of one’s labor. These influences, combined with my love of creating, were the inspiration for starting my first business, JulieAnn Caramels.
When I was 20, I met Frank Montoya at a church event. We dated for one year, married, and he brought me out to live with him in Salt Lake City, Utah (where we remain happily married 33 years later). Frank is the kind of man who made sure we were taken care of physically and financially; he worked two or even three jobs at a time because he wanted to support our family and allow me to have the opportunity to be home with the kids. While I am a hairdresser by trade, I loved being a mom and raising my children.
Frank built a very profitable transportation business for over 12 years, but everything went downhill in 2009. Unfortunately, due to unscrupulous business practices by another company and former employees, a long court battle ensued, and in 2011 we were forced to close the business. The experience was heartbreaking—we had to sell everything, and I went into a deep depression. Frank stayed in the same field of work he has been in since 1987 but he had to travel a bunch more. Since our kids were all grown and out of the house, I traveled with him as he set up a trade booth at various locations throughout the USA. During this time, I decided we needed to do something different than the competing vendors so I got him a nice table throw and professional signage, and the other vendors soon started copying us, so I started making caramels. No matter where we traveled, everyone loved the caramels, and Frank was soon known as the caramel guy. This was a great healing time for us, as the employees from the events, as well as customers, started to request caramels in bulk for themselves, as birthday gifts, Mothers Day gifts and eventually corporate gifts. I soon realized that I had something special and started the JulieAnn line of caramel treats that is JulieAnn Caramels today with the motto, “A taste so amazing we just had to share”.
We have been a hands-on company from the beginning — hand cooking, hand cutting and wrapping each individual piece. To grow the business we began to realize we needed to invest in machinery to meet the ever-growing demand for our products and to be more cost-effective. I believed in this business but was ready to hang it up and quit; it was a very tiring hobby not producing income for Frank and myself, and we were having to put more and more of our own money into it at the same time. Machinery was our plan, but we needed an investor to make this happen.
“When life gets hard don’t give up, just remember to keep chopping wood”
— George Lee Baker (Rowena’s grandfather)
Coincidentally, Frank met with an automotive friend (David) about this time looking for a truck for our son, and David asked about me, the “Caramel Lady”. Frank proceeded to tell David we were looking for investors/partners to help support the company through purchasing equipment. To Frank’s surprise, David said, “We might be interested in talking to you about this.” Frank had no intention in talking to David about investing/partnering in JulieAnn Caramels; he had been simply looking for a truck for our son.
After meeting with David and his wife, Tamara, we realized with their process help we could save on labor costs immediately by fine-tuning some of the processes in production. David had some experience in running bakeries prior to getting in the automotive industry and pointed out a few suggested improvements. After discussing this venture in further detail with David and Tamara, we felt very comfortable working with them—it felt like the right fit! So, here we are today—the business is growing, and we are working on getting equipment to fine-tune our caramel making process even more. Taking on an investor/partner has been a wonderful journey. This decision has helped me in managing my business’ growth, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with JulieAnn Caramels.
- Finding an investor/partner to help aid JulieAnn Caramels has been key to our growth, as has been listening to our customers and employees for ideas and inspiration. They have some of the best ideas!
A customer asked me if we made spicy caramels, which we did not. We talked about it and came up with a pineapple habanero flavor. As a member of the Specialty Foods Association, we submitted the Pineapple Habanero Caramel as an entry for their top annual new and exciting food products. We were selected as a SOFI Finalist—one of the top 100 entries from over 4,000 product submissions.
- An employee recommended we send caramels out to our ingredient suppliers as a thank you for being one of our partners, so we did, one of them being Darigold, where we source our butter. This kind gesture led to JulieAnn Caramels being labeled as the first “trifecta” of Darigold’s Fresh Magazine—we had the cover, a nine-page article in their 99th annual edition, and were awarded a demo at a food service show!
VITAL MEASUREMENTS OF SUPPORT
1. Test your products. Make sure people will actually buy your product.
2. If there is one available, get in touch with your local Small Business Development Center. You name it, they know how to do it.
3. Make sure your family is on board. This will be impossible without them.
4. Make a record of EVERY procedure and process in your business. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
5. You can’t do it all! Be willing to hire/outsource/whatever for things you can’t do. In my case, social media marketers, food scientists, machinists, brokers, bookkeepers, etc.