Small Business
March 5, 2015

At 91, condiment entrepreneur still has spice for life

Earl Fultz is taking on ketchup and other condiments with cHarissa — a cumin-based condiment he wants to make famous in honor of his late wife, Gloria.

Ketchup, salsa, and other leading condiments, beware.

Earl Fultz aims to replace you on dinner tables.

The 91-year-old from Greenport, New York, has big plans for cHarissa — a cumin-based condiment he began selling three years ago at farmers markets and specialty stores.

Available as a dry rub and sauce on Earl’s website, cHarissa is an offshoot of the French Moroccan tastes developed by Earl’s late wife, Gloria. She died in October 2013 but her legacy lives on through cHarissa.

The flavoring was a key element of family feasts at Earl and Gloria’s house on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound. “It’s the kind of flavor that got us kids interested in Moroccan food and interested in eating vegetables,” says Lisa Craig, Earl’s niece — a noted cook in her own right who wrote a cookbook with Sarah Elmaleh, Gloria’s mother.

“cHarissa made everything taste wonderful, and still does,” she says. “It’s a legacy from Aunt Gloria and Uncle Earl that still connects our family today.”

The spice mix has since traveled to Yankee Stadium, where Newsday notes that Matt Gibson, executive chef for the New York Yankees, put a cHarissa-topped lamb burger on the menu at the Mohegan Sun sports bar. It’s also sold at foodie meccas like Kalustyan’s in Manhattan and Sahadi’s in Brooklyn, and used by the Bareburger gourmet hamburger chain.

Grand prize

Earl’s dream to make cHarissa America’s No. 1 condiment got a big boost last September. That’s when cHarissa became one of five businesses awarded $25,000 grand prizes in the Wells Fargo Works Project contest. The contest was created to promote the launch of the Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM initiative and to help small businesses become successful through providing resources, guidance, and services.

Ellen Rohr, the business makeover specialist assigned by Wells Fargo to cHarissa, says Earl and business partner Jeri Woodhouse have proven quick studies.

Owner of A Taste of the North Fork specialty market in Southold and North Fork Specialty Kitchen in Cutchogue, New York, Jeri has been making the sauce in her kitchen along with other custom sauces, dressings, and jams she creates for East End wineries and farm stands. Both the condiment and the spice rub are sold through a distributor to chefs throughout the country.

In the past few months, Ellen says Earl and Jeri used the prize money to:

  • Update the website.
  • Buy an iPad for point of purchase credit card sales at food shows.
  • Install accounting software.
  • Create business and financial plans with lists of top projects and key to-dos.

“They’re small now but are gearing up,” Ellen says. “Our recommended approach is: Make money with the sales you have today, stay profitable, and keep a positive cash flow as you go.”

Marketing smarts

cHarissa has a folksy pitchman in Earl, who wears a cowboy hat (he grew up on a farm in Montana), quotes poetry, and has the marketing smarts of a consultant — once running industrial shows and sales meetings for Coca-Cola, General Mills, IBM, and other Fortune 500 companies in Manhattan.

“I generally don’t get involved in contests, but Wells Fargo had a mission to help small businesses grow and that appealed to me,” Earl says about his Wells Fargo Works Project entry. “They recognized there’s a lot of creativity in small towns like this one, and in people like me.”

Earl and Jeri recently made their first monthly sales goal as part of their new aggressive business plan. “They’re on fire!” Ellen says, who provides this advice: Start a business doing something you love.

That’s a given for Earl, who sees cHarissa as the food gift from Gloria that he can keep on giving. He says he’s in it for the joy, the adventure, the love, and the money — which is why he’s setting off at age 91 on a business trip to California. While there, with cowboy hat in hand, he’ll knock on the doors of some household names in the food business to see whether he can get it on their shelves.

“If they taste it, they will buy it,” he says.

Watch the video to hear Earl’s inspirational story in his own words.