Betsy Thagard Lives the Sweet Life
Written by: Marie Spada
Photographed by: Ray Villalon
When the sweet tooth strikes, it cannot be stopped. We all have our idea of the perfect treat to satisfy that craving. For me, it’s toffee. After trying Betsy Thagard’s “B.Toffee,” I’m fairly certain that regardless of your favorite confectionary delight, her toffee will be your new favorite, too. Fifteen years ago, Thagard starting making her toffee for friends and family, and they flat out could not get enough. After being persistently urged to go into business and share her toffee with the world, Thagard took the bull by the horns in 2009 and started the award winning B.Toffee. Fast forward to now, and she is running a booming business that has caught the attention of national magazines such as Redbook, and stores across the nation such as Whole Foods and Dean and Deluca. Thagard was able to take a beloved recipe and turn it into a thriving business, and if that’s not an inspiring, girl-power success story, I don’t know what is.
Question: So tell me how you got started with B. Toffee
Betsy Thagard: I love to cook and entertain. I’ve been in the fashion world and have always worked with people. When our youngest went away to college, I wanted to do something. I didn’t expect it to just be a hobby, but I thought, ‘I’ve been making this and everybody’s been loving it,’ so I went to a couple of local Newport Beach stores and presented it to them. I had designed a mockup of our signature canister, which is one of our favorite specialty, packaged items that is sold in Dean and Deluca, Whole Foods, and other specialty stores, and they loved it. They loved the product and said, “We’ll sell it!” Fast forward five and a half years, and it’s continued to grow in stores. We do a lot of corporate business as well, and it’s really progressed by word of mouth. I do have to credit my one sister though, she was the one that just kept saying, “You’ve got to sell this and market this to more than just us! It’s too good not to share with everyone!”
Q: What was the final push that took you from sharing the toffee with friends and family to sharing it with the world?
BT: The response that I got from everyone when I did my first demo at A Market. The reaction that I would get from everyone was just overwhelming. Also, the reaction that I would get from corporate clients that would gift it to their family and friends, who would then come back and order more. We’ve been awarded Best Packaging and Top Toffee from the Taste Awards in San Francisco, and seeing the reaction on everyone’s faces, I thought, “Well, maybe I really do have something.” During one of the demos, a gentleman from Almond Roca gave me the biggest compliment. He said, “You’re going to give Almond Roca a run for their money!” He even called the store back later that afternoon and I was like, “Oh my gosh, who is calling the store?” and it was him again wishing me the best of luck. He was a darling gentleman that I still have never forgotten after all of these years.
Q: Congratulations on all of your recent awards, fro Gold honors for “Top Toffee” and “Best Packaging” at the Taste Awards in San Francisco to the “Official Toffee” award at the Golden Foodie Awards! How did it feel to find out that your toffee won all of these amazing awards?
BT: It was incredibly amazing and awarding to win. I don’t ever take any of this for granted. I just think it’s amazing that, something I’m so proud of, the public is embracing as well, and that’s such a rewarding experience. I look forward to continue doing it through more fun TV segments and sharing it that way. The sky is the limit. It’s so rewarding and I’m so thrilled to have not only a presence in California, but also reaching all the way to New York and beyond. One of our big clients this holiday season was Goldman Sachs, and it’s been pretty crazy and amazing that we have quite a presence on Park Ave and in New York. So many websites orders have been popping up, and we’ve been shipping there because of that. It’s so great because someone will gift it, and that’s possibly a new fan, so it’s a fun way to continue to share the presence of our product. We were just at the Fancy Food Show too, and it was so fun to keep meeting people, and we’ve been asked to be part of that, which is so fun. We want to do not just the specialty stores, but also more corporate events as well. We want to work with event planners to let them know that we do weddings and dinner parties and whatnot. It’s so fun, because the Balboa Bay Club carries us not only in their store, but they love to have us as a welcome gift option to corporate clients. Pelican Hill, The Montage, and The Island Hotel do it as well because they like to give something that’s not only local, but also a fabulous gourmet treat.
Q: Where can we find B. Toffee?
BT: Locally in Orange County, you can find B.Toffee at Rogers Gardens, Whole Foods Fashion Island and Whole Foods Tustin, A Market, Dean and Deluca if you’re traveling to Northern California, and all the way to New York. We also have our location store list on our website, www.btoffee.com, and you can order it through the website as well. The stores carry our signature canister and our little grab and go cello[phane] bags, but the custom boxes for weddings or corporate events are available through our website. You can also do local pickup at our kitchen by the airport.
Q: What has been one of the brightest moments for you since you started B. Toffee?
BT: Seeing our product on the shelves, selling, and our sales increasing every year has been so exciting. The growth of the company and the expansion throughout the United States has been so fun, and the name recognition has been so exciting for us.
Q: What has been one of the biggest surprises that you’ve learned from since starting B. Toffee?
BT: The biggest surprise is probably, once again, the continued growth and frenzy for our product. During the holiday season, our stores couldn’t even keep it in stock. The demand has been incredible. People would be so upset when they couldn’t get it. The continued demand for it not only during the holidays but also throughout the year, and the growth and expansion of the company is just so exciting for us.
Q: Have you had any challenges with B. Toffee, and if so, how did you overcome them?
BT: I still have challenges. We’ve outgrown our commercial kitchen. Building it out a couple of years ago, I thought I’d be set for a while, but we have to expand our location and go at least double in size. The challenge is the demand for it and manufacturing of it. We have only recently hired a food broker. Previously, we were doing it all without a sales team and strictly word of mouth. If I actually went out with a full sales team, I’m not sure I could keep up at this point. Our sales have continued to increase every year. Last fourth quarter, our sales were over 100%. This first part of 2016, our sales are almost triple what they were last year. Keeping up with demand and the growth and figuring it out is always a challenge. I don’t ever say that I know it all, I’m still bouncing ideas off of advisors, but I’d love to figure it all out. I’d love to figure out the kitchen, keeping up with everything, and maintaining the consistency in quality and not threatening that at all.
Q: What advice can you give someone looking to start their own business, whether it be in food or something else?
BT: Follow your passion, do something that you love, and don’t just do it for the money. Having a passion and love for something won’t feel like demanding work. I love what I do. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of ideas and different ways of doing things. I just did it last night when I thought about where my new commercial kitchen would be! When you do something you love, it helps things thrive and grow.
Q: What are some fun things you can do with the B. Toffee bites to take a dish to the next level?
BT: Oh my gosh, if you visit our blog and look at the different recipes, you’ll see there are so many fun things to make with [B.Toffee]. One quick and easy thing to make is to grab a box of brownie mix, make them, add the B.Toffee bits by pouring them on top of the brownies, bake it, and it’s the yummiest, chewiest recipe. One thing that has become a big hit is chocolate covered bananas and I’m actually working with our friend who is a produce grower on this. So, you take pieces of bananas, cover it in chocolate, and roll it in our B.Toffee bits, and it is absolutely delicious. My friends are like, “You have to market this!” We’ve also created a fun B.Toffee martini, which is a fun dessert drink. We’ve actually done fundraisers with guest bartenders who make the B.Toffee martini. People ask if we sell those, and right now we just do our milk chocolate toffee and dark chocolate toffee, and with the challenges of growth, I don’t want to have too many different items, because that can get too nuts. But really, the sky is the limit! You can add B.Toffee to anything from your waffles or pancakes in the morning, to all kinds of fun desserts in the afternoon, and even a cheese tray with a wine tasting to get that sweet and savory mix. We just had a winery do a tasting at the Balboa Bay Club last week and it was so fun with the different cheeses.
Q: What’s next for B. Toffee?
BT: Figuring out the commercial kitchen and continued growth and production is what’s next! People always ask what I’d do if someone came and offered to buy B.Toffee. I’d definitely love to still be part of the business. Hiring more consultants to help take us to the next level for things that are out of my control and [to bolster] my wealth of information is also something I’d like to do. I’ve never manufactured anything before or owned a company before, so having my support team and advisers to help the growth of the company to get it to be more of a brand people recognize not only locally, but throughout the United States.
Q: Rumor has it, you have a fan in the Dalai Lama and Katherine Heigl!
BT: Every year, we’re one of the sponsors for the Newport Beach Film Festival, and we’ve become a lot more involved. It’s wonderful because it’s in Newport Beach, I’m from Newport Beach, B.Toffee was founded in Newport Beach, and it’s been wonderful for us because we’ve been able to do their opening night gala and their VIP private parties. The event that Katherine Heigl was at was the Balboa Bay Club. We were also part of the event with the Dalai Lama at UCI, and Whole Foods Newport Beach was part of that. They did a big farm-to-table event, and we got to gift the toffee to the Dalai Lama, Katie Couric, and Larry King. So, we were able to gift it to them and I’m hopeful that they got to taste it!