A 10-pound bag of goat pepper gifted by a friend-led home cook Cherelle Cartwright on a path to creating pepper jams and jellies. After demand for her products spread like wildfire, a grant from Access Accelerator enabled her to test five of her products in an FDA-approved lab in the United States. Now, the budding entrepreneur is set on bringing her fiery flavors to local and international supermarkets.
Known as a culinary connoisseur among family and friends, Cherelle Cartwright would commonly find herself feeding loved ones who stopped by unannounced to enjoy the dishes.
“My business was conceived quite unconventionally,” shared Cartwright. “When I’m in the kitchen, I often knock out a four-course meal, and I have friends who would show up at my door unannounced to find out what I cooked.”
In late 2018, she scolded a friend in jest for consistently dropping in for a meal without contributing anything. Weeks later, that friend delivered a 10-pound bag of goat pepper to Cartwright, with the caveat that they taste whatever meal she decided to create with it.
A bit daunted but intrigued by the giant bag of peppers; Cartwright began experimenting. She eventually came up with recipes for two pepper sauce flavours – Mango-Carrot-Pineapple and Papaya-Rosemary-Spanish Thyme – that she gifted to her friends and family for the holidays.
“My friends told me while they appreciated my products, they felt like I should be selling them to make money,” shared Cartwright. “Eventually, I did just that and started doing a lot of pop-ups with the two pepper sauces I developed to feel the market and get a response from the public.”
Within weeks the demand for her creations spread like wildfire. “I decided to make more flavours of pepper jams and jellies because I realized it was a niche market that few people tapped into,” noted Cartwright.
Cartwright established Mama Sassy’s Gourmet Foods, seeing an opportunity propelled by the demand for her creations. “I didn’t want a traditional, simple pepper sauce name,” she stated. “When you think about peppers, you think about something that has a bit of spice and zest. I wanted something that showed a female’s grace and elegance. That was what I had in mind, and I was talking to a friend, and they said, ‘Why not call it Mama Sassy?’ and the name stuck.”
Driven to grow her new business, yet recognizing that business classes would cost her a “pretty penny,” Cartwright decided to capitalize on courses offered at the Access Accelerator to “learn as much as [she] could.”
“I was grateful for the Access Accelerator because it facilitated a lot of my learning by equipping me with things I needed in the background to help me become more confident in how I approach my business and what I wanted to gain from this venture.”
One course, which Caribbean Export facilitated, showed Cartwright how to create an effective export plan. Another course, which the Access Accelerator hosted in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy’s Academy of Women Entrepreneurs Program, equipped Cartwright to develop a structured business plan.
“At the end of it, you got the opportunity to submit your business plan and enter a pitch competition,” Cartwright explained. “I entered the contest, and I was one of two winners in Nassau and won $5,000.”
Cartwright invested the majority of the prize money into product testing. “My eyes were always on the big picture, which was not only just to be able to do something here,” she explained. “The grant was a Godsend. Nutritional testing for one product tallied close to $1,000. The grant alleviated some of my financial burdens, considering the number of products I have and the fact that I was starting a business from scratch without two nickels to rub together to make a dime.”
Today, Mamma Sassy’s line of products includes six pepper jams and jellies, three balsamic vinaigrette salad dressings, a Guinness glaze, two pepper marinades, along with honey and syrup. Cartwright has gotten five of her products FDA tested through the grant.
While she has made incredible strides, she still feels she has a long way to go.
“I’m still facing roadblocks because right now, my product is one of the few products in this country that has been officially tested but is not in any major food chains,” she shared. “That’s something that is a work in progress because you have to put your brand out there constantly. I’ve learned that you have to be persistent and tenacious.”
That tenacity was one ingredient that propelled Cartwright to win a Royal Caribbean Group pepper sauce competition in October 2021.
The contest, held in partnership with the Access Accelerator, aimed to boost Bahamian small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic through a pilot program specifically for local hot and pepper sauces producers.
After a panel of judges selected Cartwright’s Papaya Medley marinade out of three pepper sauces, Cartwright was given the opportunity to have her products featured on Royal Caribbean vessels and properties.
Now faced with the task of producing pepper jams and jellies for a large audience of Royal Caribbean guests every year, Cartwright said she feels she has no choice but to scale up her home-based business.
“It is a different ball game having to increase sauce production for Royal Caribbean,” she stated. “Some would get intimidated, but I look at it as an obstacle to overcome, and I am not prepared to fail.”