Interview with Hugo and Nate Confections

Interview with Hugo and Nate Confections

by Canadian Originals June 03, 2017

 The 42 year old owner of Hugo and Nate Confections, maker of old fashioned, delicious caramels, stumbled into entrepreneurship driven by a desire for an iconic bike and an event his partner hosted.

A Red Seal Baker/Patissier and Chef who makes caramels in Kitchener/Waterloo, Amede is a married father of two. In fact the business is named after his twin boys.

We sat down briefly with Amede to learn more about him and his path to start a confectionery business.

  • “My work history is littered with some of Canada’s top restaurants. When our little guys were born, I realized I needed a change of pace and shifted to teaching Baking and Pastry at George Brown College, and now Culinary at Conestoga College. Being accustomed to working 90+ hours a week, the transition to teaching was strenuous. You know what they say about idle hands…I needed a project, and the candy business has filled that void.”

Teaching and parenting would be enough of a job for anyone, but Amede had a singular reason to start the business.4 flavours of handmade artisan caramels

  • “Well this one is a bit funny. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted a Harley Davidson motorcycle. I would often mention this to my partner, and you can imagine what the response was. A few years ago, in the spring, she was hosting a gathering for a group of ladies and asked for some treats for the party. I had made caramels occasionally for the various restaurants I worked in, and thought I would cook up a batch. So, the caramels were a huge hit…now back to the bike. Anytime I would mention wanting the Harley, Christine would suggest that I just needed to ‘stir the pot’, suggesting that I start a side biz to finance the bike. Eventually, I did just that.”

So how do you start selling caramels? If you’re Amede, you cook up a batch of candies, design labels, drop off some samples to 3 local retailers… and when they are this good, before you even return from giving out samples, 2 of the 3 vendors have already reached out wanting to sell the product.

As he puts it, “I’ve been wrapping ever since”.

The success of his caramels led Amede to think about introducing new products. Right now, he says, he is just finalizing a custom ‘coffee crisp’ caramel for their national distributor. Once that’s out of the way, he’ll start putting together some ideas for the holiday season. Right now there are five flavours available: coffee, chocolate, fleur de sel, harvest apple and vanilla bourbon.

The next step for the business is to occupy a larger facility, and then expanding the product line from caramels to a wider range of confections.

He has yet to quit his day job, and only has casual help. For now, he uses a rental kitchen and in addition to local retailers, he has   launched a website to process online orders about a year after starting the biz.

While making caramels sounds like a sweet gig, the hours are crazy long. During peak season, he is cooking/cutting/wrapping over 15000 caramels a week.

  • "My cook’s soul keeps my head above water. I’ve seen a lot of 120 hour weeks, and it is what it is.” He hides a grin, saying “Did I mention I got my Harley?”

His advice to wannabe entrepreneurs is to find a market that isn’t saturated, produce a product with integrity, care about your customers, especially those that are representing your company.

We asked him about his biggest daily challenge.

“Argh! Wrapping, without question.” When you think about the challenge most of us have to wrap holiday presents, wrapping thousands of caramels every week seems like a monumental task indeed.

We asked him to share some of the lessons he learned about himself as an artisan.jars of artisan handmade caramels harvest apple and flour de sea

  • "I like simple, elegant and focused flavours. I really shy away from anything gimmicky.” Having tasted his confections, we can promise there is nothing gimmicky about them, just pure delicious caramel flavour with a hint of salt and a buttery texture.

Lucky locals get to place custom orders, but Amede says that he is always inspired by customer feedback, so if you have an idea after tasting the caramels in your July box, he’d like to know.

His daily schedule is incredibly long, but doing what you love can be incredibly motivating, even when you end up running on barely any sleep.

His off season and peak season tend to be very different. Just hearing him describe his day had us thinking of a nap.

  • “During the peak, I am is up at 5, on the road to the college for 6 where he sets up his classes, then teach, paperwork, race out to the shop for 1, cook until all of the cooking’s done, wrap til all the wrapping’s done, package til all the packaging is done…2-3 am, sleep (ish), start over. Deliver somewhere in between all of these things.” That is not a schedule for the faint of heart!

We asked him whether there are any special instructions to store the caramels. His reply: “Eat them, enjoy them, keep them cool in the hot summer months. Hide them from your friends and family if you want them to last a couple of weeks.” For the record, we had to hide the caramels from ourselves before we started packing them in our July boxes.

We talked about some of the trends he sees in his field, and he noticed that packaging plays a huge role in his realm. Mediocre products, featured in beautiful boxes sometimes become popular based on “smoke and mirrors”, he says. On a more positive note, he adds, some boutique craftspeople are starting to set up shop and produce some pretty cool, natural stuff.

And what, we asked, does a busy dad, teacher and artisan do for fun when he is not stirring caramels in his traditional copper pot? Grinning, he tells us “wrap candies… well, and ride my bike.”

 

 

 




Canadian Originals
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