Bucks County firehouse enjoying fruits of jam company’s labor
For seven years, the Eat This Yum jam company has operated out of the kitchen of a volunteer Bucks County firehouse, and given back 5 percent of its sales.
Perched on the edge of Bucks County, just across the river from New Jersey, the Delaware Valley Volunteer Fire Company's headquarters in Erwinna, where the population is under 500, doesn't see a lot of action when it comes to fighting fires.
But the firehouse is busy most days, the air filled with the smell of raspberries or peppers simmering on the stove and the fragrance of fresh herbs, the clatter of pots and pans that Gino De Schrijver uses not for chili, but for making huge batches of sweet and savory jams to be sold everywhere from Di Bruno Bros. to Wegmans to cheese shops in Brooklyn to stores in Japan.
In addition to housing the fire engine and other rescue equipment, the firehouse is the headquarters of Eat This Yum, the company De Schrijver started in 2011 as a hobby and which has since grown into a full-time business that has spread to stores in more than 25 states, Canada, and Asia. Eat This Yum has also been featured by Oprah Winfrey's magazine, and on the Food Network.
"It really took off after that," said De Schrijver. "There was a point when we were making 2,000 jars a day for two months straight. Our friends were volunteering to help."
As the company has grown, so have its contributions to the fire company. From the beginning, Eat This Yum has given 5 percent of its sales to the firehouse, as well as invested in its infrastructure and facilities.
A native of Belgium who moved to the States in 1989, De Schrijver worked in restaurants, bars, and as a private chef before starting a business in Reno, Nev., that sold fresh meals to go. After the financial crisis hit in 2008, he and his now-husband, David Borgert, moved to Erwinna with dreams of living in a farmhouse, and De Schrijver started a corporate job with Sodexo, an international food services company.
Seeking a creative outlet, De Schrijver began experimenting with making tomato marmalade from fresh local produce. In 2010, he took it to the Stockton Farmers' Market, across the river in New Jersey. After selling out on his first try, he started developing new recipes.
Eat This Yum now sells 13 flavors of jam, marmalade, and preserves, including blackberry-raspberry, balsamic caramelized onion, orange saffron cardamom, and bacon — tastes that can pair with anything from cheeses to charcuterie to seafood and sandwiches. The company uses as many local ingredients and produce as possible, and also offers some limited varieties based on seasonal produce, such as one made from heirloom cranberries.
"I just wanted to create flavors that were something more than what you'd put on toast," De Schrijver said.
De Schrijver joined the volunteer fire department when he and Borgert moved to Erwinna, and as sales continued to grow, he needed a commercial kitchen. So he asked the Fire Chief Rick Armitage for permission to use the station in exchange for a portion of sales. A year later, he hired Armitage's son, Evan, as a full-time employee. He quit his job and brought on Borgert full-time as well.
In 2014, after they took the jams to a New York trade show, Whole Foods picked it up for stores in its Mid-Atlantic region. In 2014, Winfrey featured it in her magazine as one of her "favorite things" that year. In 2015, local food experts Adam and Andrew Erace spotlighted the bacon marmalade on their Food Network show Great American Food Finds.
"The orders started coming in after it aired, and then it aired again," De Schrijver said. "It was odd ordering I don't know how many pounds of bacon, then calling them back and saying I needed more."
Eat This Yum now has four full-time employees, including De Schrijver and Borgert, as well as two part-time sales representatives. The company produces between 2,000 and 3,000 jars at the height of the busy holiday season. Sales have increased by 30 percent over the years, said sales manager Natalie Rockwell, and so have contributions to the firehouse. This year, the company ordered a new engine, and the firehouse is planning an expansion.
As satisfying as it is to have the jams carried in large stores, specialty shops remain the company's bread and butter, Borgert said, because those businesses pay the closest attention to how to market the jams and promote them to regular customers.
De Schrijver said they might miss out on some large sales opportunities by prioritizing seasonal ingredients, but he prefers to focus on making the best-tasting product.
"We didn't start this so we could grow it and sell it," De Schrijver said. "We really just want a nice life. And we want to be able to keep giving back."
This article has been updated to correct the name of the company.