Jennifer "JC" Constantine went from being a songwriter to becoming an inventor of a fast-growing frozen-food brand after a dessert recipe went awry.
What almost ended up in her kitchen trash is the basis for her $5.3 million business. JC's Pie Pops can be found all over the U.S. at grocery stores like Whole Foods and Hy-Vee. The California-based founder of JC's describes what it's like to find success in unsuspecting places, how she's avoided taking on debt, and why she's building a sweet legacy. --As told to Anna Meyer
If you would've told me seven years ago that today I'd be waking up each morning at 4:45 a.m. to check emails as the CEO of a dessert company, I would've said, "Are you crazy? That's when I go to bed! You must not even know me." The "me" back then was a musician, someone who left college to pursue songwriting in California. I was writing songs for TV and creating my own album, but that all changed one day because my refrigerator decided to go haywire.
I had always loved entertaining and cooking for guests, and one night in 2010 I was making my tried-and-true homemade panna cotta, an Italian custard, for a small group of friends. That's when my refrigerator fritzed out and ended up freezing everything inside. Just before my ruined panna cotta ended up in the trash, my then-fiancé (now husband) tried a bite and stopped me from rinsing out the dishes. "This is delicious frozen!" He exclaimed to me. He then encouraged me to play around with the recipe, and all my friends ended up agreeing with him. When the demand among family and friends for my newly popular treat started to grow, I realized that I had a fantastic product on my hands.
Inspired by the local encouragement, I put in the hard work of developing the recipe, creating a novelty item on a stick that would be more grocery-aisle friendly. I turned the sweet treat into pie pops based off of traditional pie flavor combinations and I filed for a trademark. I let my fiancé-turned-husband be the taste tester, and he approved. I was going to sell my pie pops and share this fresh take on a frozen treat with the rest of the country.
So I did exactly that. My husband and I threw our savings into starting the business, and the JC's brand was put on the map when we launched in about 300 grocery stores. Since we were in Whole Foods and Sprouts, we had a lot of street credibility from the beginning. Bigger grocery stores took notice and asked to do test runs with our product. But at that point, we were experiencing growing pains with our manufacturing and supply chain, so we had to turn down those grocers.
These issues didn't stop the company, and I used the downtime to develop additional product lines, like our Nudies and Pie Bites. Our product lines have always grown quickly-- we're currently working on a pint line, and we have another novelty line coming out next year.
Our supply chain issues got better, especially after we bought a $150,000 freezer as a winner of the Mission Main Street Grant from Chase Bank. Thankfully, we've grown without incurring debt or using venture capital, which I prioritized as a business owner. Debt is terrifying for a company. Instead, I raised friends-and-family money along the way. I am so thankful for such great support from our investors and consumers, and I think it's all because JC's has a brand that people really love.
When I think back to my time as a musician before all of this happened, I can see that what I'm doing now is a better fit for my skills and personality. Even when I was songwriting, my managers told me that, despite my musical talent, I belonged on the other side of the mixing board. So, really, that's what I'm doing now. I'm managing my creations. Only instead of writing and performing songs, I'm creating desserts for the grocery aisle.