words by Silas Valentino
Pablo Lugones of Pacifica was traveling for business in 2014 when a box that changed his life for the sweeter arrived at his house. As a buyer for an international food ingredient distributor, he had submitted an order for a sample of blackberries from a frozen fruit supplier. While he was on the road, his wife, Gina, called; expecting a sample size of a pound or two, he instead received a 50-pound box of plump, perishable blackberries.
“As soon as I got home, my priority number one was what to do with the blackberries,” he recalls. “I felt bad about throwing away perfectly good fruit so I went onto ‘YouTube University.’ I took a few ‘classes,’ looked at plain blackberry jam recipes and then canned it. I gave them out to coworkers and within a week I had responses of, ‘Please tell your wife the jam is delicious!’”
Pablo quickly caught what he calls the “canning bug” and began experimenting with flavor combinations. New jams were devised, jars were filled and the positive responses soon turned into a full demand. Pablo had inadvertently become an artisanal jam maker and Small Batch Jam Co. was born.
The two-person company is a husband-wife operation where Pablo handles the flavor innovation, production and distribution while Gina manages the marketing, design and prepares each label by hand. They rent space from a fully-licensed commercial kitchen called the Pedro Point Creative in Pacifica and Pablo prepares the jam with old-fashioned hand stirring. To reflect his business name, he cooks with smaller, 30-gallon kettles as opposed to using larger, commercial appliances.
As of today, Small Batch has produced 42 unique flavors of jams, jellies and marmalades that are sold at local coffee and tea shops and online at smallbatchjamco.com. The boutique aspect of his business offers Pablo independence to experiment with flavors, and he works closely with regional farmers to craft new jams in sync with the seasons.
Recognizing that he’s entering a saturated market where commercial brands like Smucker’s dominate, Pablo says his aim is to create unique flavor combinations that you can’t find on a store shelf. One of his top sellers is Raspberry Jalapeño Jam, a delectable hybrid that begins sweet and closes with a satisfying kick. And then there’s the popular Rosemary Prosecco Clementine, which clearly defies traditional jam making. “When someone hears of a citrus preserve, they assume marmalade—I wanted to deviate,” he says. “Rosemary Prosecco Clementine was inspired by a cocktail that we loved, and I thought, ‘Can I make this into jam?’” He did, and the results will have you dreaming of breakfast toast.
Jam jars are topped with vintage gingham cloth, and the raven logo on the label connects Baltimore, where Pablo met his wife and they had their son, Dominic, with Pacifica, their home since 2000. The packaging is minimalistic, using only black and white tones, to allow the texture and color of the jams to speak for themselves.
Pablo explains that Small Batch provides him with three specific benefits: it’s a creative hobby for both him and his wife, a financial asset now that his son is in college and it also allows him to support local food growers. “In our food chain, the farmer takes the hit. The consumer is the one who drives everything, and if that consumer isn’t willing to pay for a product, the farmer is usually the one hurt. The idea I came to is, what if I could provide an outlet for some of these producers?” he says.
Jam, after all, is only as good as its essential ingredients, so Pablo has become a regular face at farmers markets across the Bay Area. He works closely with growers to know their supply so when 60 pounds of strawberries from Fresno are no longer farmstand-pretty (but are perfectly ripe for canning), he’s ready to buy them out in bulk. “If I’m going to make an apricot jam, I want to be able to say, ‘Go to this address in this city and you can visit the farm that grew the apricot in this jam,’” he says.
Pablo is content with his current e-commerce business design and handful of retail partners and is gratified by the growth in their monthly subscription service. Although he views it as a part-time passion project, there is talk of opening a small storefront in Pacifica. Regardless of however high the demand may get, Pablo says Small Batch will remain true to its name.
“I will always choose to keep production close to what the name implies. Even if given the opportunity to go with 200-gallon kettles, I won’t go with that because it would limit my ability to test and develop flavors,” he says, gesturing to jars labeled Quince Rosewater, Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Strawberry Champagne. “When a loyal customer visits me, they find something new each time. They’ve become accustomed to saying, ‘What’s new this month?’”
And retail partners like
Bacchus Wine Shop
25 Hillcrest Boulevard