Shy and smiling, petite 7-year-old Madyson Wetzel doesn’t seem like the next Steve Jobs or Julia Child. But thanks to her creative ideas on fancy marshmallows, her Bonney Lake family is three years into a entrepreneurial gourmet trajectory that has taken them from holiday bazaars to major retail outlets and media – without losing a scrap of the original girly cuteness.
“I’m all about how cute is it, how good does it look, what is the quality,” explains Madyson’s mom, Breeze. “And also, how good does it taste?”
One look around the Wetzels’ commercial kitchen in Sumner is all it takes to show the cuteness factor in Madyson’s Marshmallows. Spools of pastel ribbons curl from racks near neat black boxes, pink and purple and yellow sprinkles fill Mason jars, stickers with the curlicue letters of the family’s logo hang neatly, and poodle-pink is everywhere – on aprons, on plastic tubs, on marshmallow tulips and even on dad Brian Wetzel’s T-shirt as he mixes the next batch of dipped, chipped or decorated marshmallows.
Because Madyson’s Marshmallows has been a girls’ business from the beginning. Inspired by then-4-year-old Madyson asking how marshmallows were made, Brian – the cook of the family – took her into the kitchen and whipped up a batch. She loved making them so much that Breeze, who works a day job at REI, helped her set up a booth at the company’s annual holiday bazaar and talked her through the packaging and selling process.
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“She was really shy, so it was good for her,” Breeze remembers. “She had to ask people to buy them, ask them for the right money. It helped her talk to people and be more confident.”
It also made Madyson some money – $200, in fact. Encouraged, Breeze and Madyson did another bazaar in Kent, and earned double that. Going “official” in 2010, the Wetzels eventually had to move out of their family kitchen and last year began a Kickstarter campaign that ended up financing $12,000 for their commercial kitchen.
They haven’t looked back. After taking their sticky treats to the Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C. last July, the Wetzels snagged an account with the gourmet section of nine East Coast Bed, Bath and Beyond stores. Selling in just a few South Sound retail locations, they’ve also grown a solid online business and gotten attention from People magazine and trade shows such as Williams and Sonoma. They make thousands of marshmallows every week, handling all the packaging and postage themselves while juggling their day jobs plus Madyson and her younger sister, Adelayde. Breeze is even beginning a video blog, filmed in one pink-swathed corner of the kitchen.
Why the success?
Well, it’s probably the combination of glamorous packaging plus melt-in-your-mouth marshmallows decked out in extremely creative ways: mini-cupcake marshmallows dipped in Guittard chocolate or layered with homemade caramel, marshmallows flavored with chips of chocolate, toffee, butterscotch, coffee and the like (instant s’mores), or smooshed into disks that fit exactly onto your cup of hot coffee or chocolate. Or maybe it’s the seasonal treats: the giant marshmallow Easter eggs hand-sprinkled with pink or yellow, the little fluffy marshmallow bunnies, or the tulips-on-a-stick for Mother’s Day.
It all screams “girly cuteness,” and it’s delicious to boot. The Wetzels use only what needs to go in a marshmallow – sugar, water, corn syrup, kosher gelatin, salt and vanilla – with no preservatives. The result is a confection that’s a fresh, sweet world away from supermarket marshmallows.
“We’re the only people in the whole country doing this,” Breeze explains, as she sifts confectioner’s sugar over some freshly-poured marshmallows (it makes them less sticky to handle when they’re dry). “No one’s doing marshmallows as pretty as this. Everyone else just pours a slab and cuts it into cubes.”
Well, the Wetzels do that too – but only in order to package them in a cellophane cone with a serving of hot chocolate powder.
“They’re beautifully packaged, definitely an eye-catcher,” says LaDonna Olmstead, owner of The Tea Madame tea shop in Sumner’s Windmill Gardens, who has stocked Madyson’s Marshmallows since they first went public. “I don’t eat marshmallows but I’ll eat (these ones) because they don’t taste fake. The caramel, the marshmallow – everything is wonderful.”
For Madyson Wetzel, though, the adventure is still going. She comes up with creative ideas (the toppers were her brainwave), and over s’mores toasting in the backyard she and Adelayde are the chief taste testers of new flavors for the “chipped” marshmallows.
“The best one is chocolate and peanut butter,” she confides shyly. She’s still selling Madyson’s Marshmallows at holiday fairs and goes along to trade fairs to make the connection between what her parents do all weekend and where it goes.
“It’s good for them to see how all this works,” says Breeze, “to see how it becomes something bigger.”
You’d think, spending all those hours in a kitchen with enticing confectionary, Madyson and her sister would be eating marshmallows all day long – but no.
“I didn’t have any today, or yesterday,” says Madyson.
“No, she’s too busy concentrating on the chocolate,” says her mom with a smile.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org/arts