interview with Leslie Kielson
Tell us about food and childhood!
Growing up Jewish meant that food always played an important role in our family. First and foremost, there must always be more than enough food. No one should ever leave hungry. So if you are planning to have 5 people for dinner, you make enough food for 9. Grocery shopping, especially at farmers’ markets, has always been one of my favorite things to do. I love to be able to feed my family, friends and now a whole host of people all over with Battenkill Brittle.
How did you get into making the brittle?
My wife and I are very active. Biking, hiking, skiing, gardening, we love it. We begrudgingly brought energy bars to fuel us through, despite the fact that they mostly don’t taste very good, and don’t work particularly well. Then, in the summer of 2010, we planned a 7 day bike trip through the Northeast Kingdom and Champlain Valley of Vermont. I had tasted something vaguely similar to what is now Battenkill Brittle and decided to try to make something like it for our trip. My wife, Liz, has low-blood sugar, so having a high protein snack is imperative for her. We were literally astounded by how well this new snack worked on our trip.It powered us up the many Vermont hills! Best of all, it kept Liz’s blood sugar really even. When we got home, I had others taste it and soon they were clamoring for more. I realized that perhaps I had created something that was marketable.
And the business?
Once I decided to produce Battenkill Brittle as a product, I was new to the food business, so I had a tremendous amount to learn. I began by perfecting the recipe, and coming up with a good shape and size for packaging. So many local, small food producers in Vermont were extremely generous with their time and advice. With their help, it took me about 2 months to put it all in place and secure my first accounts. Since then, the packaging and the process have evolved significantly. It is fun to look back at all the variations!
How's the brittle made?
When I first began, I was baking in the kitchen in my house, but that quickly became unmanageable. So I started working at a nearby maple sugar shack that had a commercial kitchen, and then moved to an even bigger space shared with a local granola company. Last spring, I decided to make the big investment and I put a full commercial kitchen in my basement, so now I work from there. I get my ingredients from various, mostly local distributors and the maple syrup is produced a couple towns away. Whenever possible, I try to get ingredients that are produced in the United States. I bake about 250 pounds of Brittle and Crumble per week usually over the course of 3 days, or about 24 pans per day. (Phew!) I am not anxious to get too big. I enjoy working mostly by myself, doing the baking as well as the marketing and running of the business.
What's your favorite part of owning the business?
My favorite part of this business is being able to provide a delicious and really healthy snack for people. I love talking to the customers who come to the farmers’ markets. It is so gratifying to hear that people appreciate having an energy bar that is not too sweet, and that really gets them through. It feels like I am sharing a part of myself with people which makes me very happy.