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article imageToffee made in San Francisco is sweet success amid recession Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Feb 1, 2011 in Business
Since the company began two years ago, success has been very sweet for CJ's Toffee & Toppings. Yes, literally very sweet!
Because, even though the economic recession has been causing cut-backs and job loss across the nation, CJ's Toffee & Toppings products have flown off the inventory shelves beyond founder Catherine Hughes' wildest dreams.
"I was sold out for holiday orders," she said. "So busy, I thought I would not keep up the pace," said she. "Yet I managed to fill each and every order this past Christmas, right down my my last two pieces of toffee." "Really, the very last two pieces," said Hughes.
Based on an old family recipe that Hughes inherited from her godmother, the toffee is sweet gold. "My godmother Suzie Soper would make it every year and everyone in the family devoured it," Hughes said. "She finally gave me the recipe two years ago with her blessings," said Hughes.
And with that golden recipe Hughes was confident to start a business. Of course some friends and others in her social circles cautioned her about starting a new business in an economic recession.
Yet, she explained, "I just listened to my gut. I was tired of working in the corporate setting and wanted to do something creative and fun that did not feel like work to me," she said.
Hughes said that she would have pursued this opportunity years earlier, because her godmother was eager to teach her the recipe. But in the busy schedules of legal firms and commercial real estate offices, "things got in the way, until I just decided, I have to make time for this or I will not be able to do it at all," said Hughes.
So, undaunted even amid perhaps just a little in-trepidation, Hughes with a background in law and commercial real estate did all the research and preparations before making an entrepreneurial leap.
And, oh what a leap - from commercial real estate and legal work in prestigious law firms to making toffee!
Buttery rich, fresh and ever so irresistible "toffee talk - little pieces of conversation" as the label says, has everyone raving. Most of her orders are placed via web site. Hughes smiles when she describes the ingredients as wholesome - packaged in a simple and unfussy elegance.
CJ's Toffee is made with butter, sugar, nuts, chocolate and water. Very simple ingredients, yet not just any will do, only the best of highest quality.
High quality butter, sugar, chocolate and nuts from only the best local growers. Offering four varieties of toffee, that include almond toffee, peanut toffee, pecan and walnut. Oh and not just any walnuts, it has to be red walnuts from California.
It is no wonder Hughes' "Toffee Talk" won top award as "The Best in Confections" at the Marin County Fair in 2010. Her toffee creations continue to get accolades at each venue or special event her product appears.
Hughes explained that when she does something she does it well whole-hearted, set to the highest standards of excellence. And it is this commitment to excellence that has put her toffee at the top of people's comfort food "must have" list.
"I have a major sweet tooth and all the sweets I eat, must be absolutely the best, because working off the extra calories, is not an easy thing to do," said Yvette Pasco. She and her husband have been neighbors of Hughes for the past seven years.
When Hughes gave them some of her toffee the Pasco's became instant fans who encouraged her to go into business.
"This toffee hands down is the most amazing taste that melts in your mouth and keeps you wanting anther bite after bite, every time," said Pasco.
"Believe it or not," said Hughes, "I have not done a bit of marketing, it has all been word of mouth," she said.
"Since her start in 2009 it has all been word of mouth really, said Stacey Paynter who along with Ellin Purdom has now signed on to help Hughes with the business.
That seems to be the case because web sites like Daily Grommet, Face Book and Yelp have featured "Toffee Talk in glowing reviews."
"Catherine's website for the toffee was launched in the fall of '09 so she didn't even have that helping her until fourth quarter." "And she hasn't done any online marketing to really drive folks to it," Paynter said.
And with help from family, friends, colleagues and associates or as Hughes likes to say; "my ever growing village of people," Hughes is confident her company will grow. "I have surprised everyone with this venture, even myself," said Hughes.
"I knew it would sell," said Hughes. "But at this rate?" "Wow!" Hughes is amazed and humbled by the success. Most of all she is pleased to see such a sweet little enterprise making such a positive impact. "The people that have stepped forward to help or who have been delighted by this toffee creation have been amazing," she said.
Barbara Latour and her husband Tom are the owners of LaTour Hotels & Resorts a five-star hospitality company with accommodation facilities across the nation, in Europe and other prime destinations around the world.
The Latours also have vineyards in St. Helena, Napa Valley - part of the wine-making region of Northern California. Their wines have become an outreach of the LaTour hospitality industry. They are pleased to present guests with CJ's Toffee.
"Because our life revolves around the hospitality business and because we do a lot of entertaining we are always looking for wonderful ways in which to "take care" of our friends and associates," said Latour.
"'Toffee Talk' is one of those ways for a couple of reasons," she said. "First, it is the best toffee we have ever tasted and second, we have found a number of different ways in which to "introduce" it to others." "We've used it as "place gifts" at country lunches and dinners," Latour said.
Latour considers the toffee so outstanding that, "this year, we replaced our annual Thanksgiving See's Candy shipment to friends with tins of Toffee Talk," she said.
With the ever-growing fans of Toffee Talk, Hughes has now made this new little company her full time endeavor. Latuor, Paynter, Pasco and others all confirmed Hughes as a great person running the company. They all conveyed that Hughes meets the criteria for making the product outstanding and her business a success.
"No, I will not get bored making toffee," said Hughes. "There is always something new and I am learning lots of new information as I go along," she said. She hopes to have CJ's Toffee & Toppings in fine stores yet with a taste and simple goodness everyone will love.
In fact, Hughes is already working on a new creation to add to her product line, fresh made croutons. These will be fresh lemon zest and herb made with fresh baked sourdough bread. "My company CJ's Toffee & Toppings will make more than just sweet confections, croutons for soups or salads are a topping," she said.
With a strong belief in "visualize it and it will be," Hughes has many more culinary taste-sensation creation ideas in mind and toffee is just the beginning.
For more information about Catherine Hughes and "Toffee Talk - Little Pieces of Conversation" visit
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