The entrepreneur creates her unique condiments with low sugar and no preservatives— and ingredients from local farmers to help uplift her community.
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ashley rouse holding trade street jam co jams
Credit: Courtesy of Trade Street Jam Co

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

No matter who you are, you probably have a few go-to toppings you like to add to your favorite dishes, whether it be a delicious jam for pancakes or a spicy hot sauce to slather onto a slab of ribs. Luckily for foodies worldwide, entrepreneur Ashley Rouse knows the power of sweet and savory condiments. The culinary school-trained chef created her own brand, Trade Street Jam Co., which fuses tasty, and sometimes unexpected, flavors together to make an array of spreads you won't want to be without. Here, the CEO and founder shares how her vision for her business came to life and how she is preserving (pun intended!) her legacy.

trade street jam co pancakes
trade street jam co hot sauce ribs
Left: Credit: Courtesy of Trade Street Jam Co.
Right: Credit: Courtesy of Trade Street Jam Co.

A Passion-Turned-Profession

The idea for Trade Street Jam Co. was born in 2008, three years after Rouse graduated from culinary school and got her start working in restaurants and hotels in Charlotte, North Carolina. These early days were fruitful and helped her grow in the food world, as did her downtime—on the side, she cooked and ran her blog, "I Speak Kitchenese," at home. "Part of that was canning items—squash, green beans, jams, mustards—as I'm a big fan of home preserving and also love condiments," the chef says. "I started making jams and giving them to friends and family and I just absolutely adored it and knew I wanted to sell them one day." During this time period, Rouse lived in her beloved apartment, which happened to be on a road called Trade Street. "I wrote that down and didn't come back to it until I was living in Brooklyn in 2016," she adds. "That's when I really started jamming and Trade Street officially took off!"

Building Out the Brand

In a world where business owners can sell products in a myriad of ways—via everything from e-commerce sites to flagship stores—Rouse capitalized on using several mediums to get Trade Street Jam Co. up and running. Her first step? Selling her jams on Etsy. From there, she got into the open-air markets in Brooklyn to cultivate a local customer base. "Soon after, I launched my own online store, which transformed operations significantly," she says. "Starting out, the only funding I had was my own savings from my corporate job. After Etsy and my online store, Instagram became (and still is) the social media platform of choice to promote my business."

Making the Signature Flavors

While all of Rouse's delectable jams, such as the Trade Street Jam Co. Strawberry Chipotle and Fig Jam ($15, tradestreetjamco.com) and Trade Street Jam Co. Plum and Rose Jam ($15, tradestreetjamco.com)—one of the founder's personal favorites!—are unique, she says that each and every flavor combination was inspired by Brooklyn's food and craft cocktail scene. "I always wanted something different, so I never had any interest in creating a traditional jam flavor, such as strawberry or grape; those flavors were oversaturated in the market," she says, noting that she now sells hot sauce, too. "Instead, I wanted to play around with funky flavors most people would not be accustomed to, such as habaneros and chipotles, and just really blend things together."

trade street jam co. jams and crackers and cheese
Credit: Courtesy of Trade Street Jam Co.

The CEO also notes how her continued jam experimentation has evolved. She used to combine the ingredients she found at her local grocery store to make the jams, starting with small batches of about 30 jars. "Once they sold out, I'd then retire that flavor! I laugh at that now, because it was a totally unsustainable model," she recalls. "Today, our jam production operates on a much larger scale, but our small batch cooking process remains pretty much the same. It usually goes one of two ways: slow cooking, to produce a thick, almost buttery spread, or quick cooking, to retain as much color and flavor in the fruit as possible." After the jams are cooked, the team adds very little sugar and keeps pectin and preservatives out altogether.

As for where Rouse sources her ingredients? She purchases all fruits and materials from local vendors and farmers, ensuring that she is able to work with and support her community in every way possible. At the end of the manufacturing process, the Trade Street Jam Co. team cleans, hot-fills, and then briefly upends the jars—this sanitizes and seals the lids and rids the jars of air, so their contents have a longer shelf life.

Revolutionizing the Food Industry

As a chef and general consumer, Rouse has noticed that most jams on the market today are filled with pectin, thickeners, stabilizers, and extra sugar—it makes shopping for a product that tastes good and is also good for you a challenge. Ultimately, solving that problem became Rouse's mission. "Our jams can double as sweet-tooth-satisfiers and guilt-free indulgences," she says, noting that creating a clean product was paramount, given America's struggle with obesity and diabetes—a disease that disproportionally affects the Black community. "It honestly didn't make sense to create a product that wasn't better for you." Plus, the founder also saw the rise of sustainable businesses and knew she wanted to be on the forefront of this change in her industry.

Preserving Her Brand

"After making the transition from 9-to-5 to full-time entrepreneurship, I quickly came to realize that there is no constant," Rouse says of her business journey. "My best piece of advice to other entrepreneurs is to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable." Being adaptable and pivoting your brand's processes whenever necessary will keep it running smoothly, she says. Another pro tip? You will see success and failure throughout your career, so learn to love the journey—not just the destination. Along the way, make sure to take care of yourself, she says, since you can't pour from an empty cup.

Rouse's long-term goal is to sell the company for $100 million down—but for now, she's enjoying chasing her dreams: "Building something from scratch and watching it bloom has helped me feel successful," she says. "I'm dedicated to that and to creating generational wealth for my family." For Rouse, it's just as important to give back to her community at every opportunity. As a business owner, she knows that paying success forward is a key responsibility.

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