Charmane Skillen operates a growing business in a former laundromat on the north side of Goshen.
You wouldn't know it from the outside, but when you walk inside Salt Sisters, you can figure out what she does.
The two rooms are full of spices and salts. And therefore, it fills the nose with sweet and savory scents.
Those scents are in little pouches that she's selling with the S.A.L.T. Sisters logo.
Skillen is in the spice business. And she's doing very well.
In 2007, Skillen started Salt Sisters while involved at American Countryside Farmers Market.
The market didn't last.
Salt Sisters did.
It was initially called S.A.L.T. She had a business partner for several years during which it became known as S.A.L.T. Sisters. Last fall, she became chief executive officer as well as founder.
Initially, the business focused on retail, but it has grown to include wholesale accounts. Though Skillen is looking forward to revamping the website, online sales at saltsistersonline.com and sales through about 250 stores, mostly mom-and-pop operations, have her busy.
How busy? She won't talk specific numbers, but sales grew by 103 percent in 2012. She said it's on pace to grow that much again this year.
You've been able to find the products for sale at places like Mattern's Butcher Shop and Corner Deli, Yoder Meat & Cheese Co. and Das Dutchman Essenhaus, but Martin's Super Markets also started carrying some of the products recently.
Michelle Waldrop, a deli buyer and category manager, said the company was basically “at our back door” and Skillen was great to work with. “She has a definite passion and a vast knowledge that she has shared with our employees,” Waldrop said in an email.
Skillen is proud of her work and isn't surprised by all the attention. But she didn't expect it all either. “I had no idea it would grow like this,” Skillen said.
Having Giada De Laurentiis talk about your products on “The Today Show” in 2009 didn't hurt.
Neither do mentions by Midwest Living magazine.
The most recent attention came from Clean Eating, a Canadian magazine focused on healthy, flavorful cooking. It gave her two awards in the April/May issue. The annual Clean Choice Awards picked her Mediterranean Rub as one of its four spices and the vanilla infusion kit in its baking category. The magazine honored 93 products this year.
“For whatever reason I'm really good at creating flavors and people just love them,” she said.
The salt and herb business doesn't have a lot of regulations about labeling, but Skillen touts that her products are harvested responsibly and from “clean” sources. That's part of what led to the recognition from “Clean Eating.”
“We're great for vegetarians and vegans. We add tons of flavor without any of the garbage,” she said.
In addition, she's good at marketing, branding and selling herself as a mother of four who started as a home cook and now has this business. The logos, the names, the presentation is clean and sharp. “SALT” is an acronym for her four daughters: Sydney, Alexis, Lauren and Taylor. Their photo and names appear on business brochures.
Along with the marketing is a growing sales line. A business that started with about 20 has grown to 140. Among the 140 products are rubs, cane sugar mixes and vanilla infusions. The amount of products and the variety can be overwhelming.
I'd start by getting a really good salt.
Throw away that cardboard can of Morton's. You can get salt that has more flavor and makes food a lot better.
You can get a funky smoked salt or flavored salt if you want, but I like the sel gris, a French sea salt that is coarse and actually lower in sodium. It has some crunch.
When it comes to the seasoning blend, get a couple and try them out. You don't need a lot to add big flavor.
Skillen's Tuscan Farmhouse Blend has nearly a cult following, she said. It's always been a top seller and was one of her first products. It has a nice blend of salt, garlic, basil and oregano.
The Dragon's Breath Rub has some heat, though I wanted a bit more. It has a nice amount of salt and smoked seasonings.
The Mojo Seasoning has some Cuban/south Florida flavors with citrus and salt. I actually used it in a salad dressing recently.
Skillen also recommends Charmane's Bread Dipping Seasoning, which she believes is the best version on the market. You add it to oil to create a bread-dipping sauce.
The products are pretty good and worth exploring. A 2-ounce to 5-ounce package of salt or spice costs an average of $6.25 a package, she said. Sound expensive? These are gourmet products. And they pack a lot of flavor. They're worth trying. But even if you don't, plenty of others are.
“We're growing so fast it's hard to keep up with everything,” she said.
I'm hungry. Let's eat.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall;[/URL] or via [URL]Facebook. His blog is at www.blogs.elkharttruth.com/diningalaking and you can subscribe so that you're notified every time he posts.