Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup: An Interview with Owner Tina Clark

This Friday, February 8th, Locavore will host a pre-Valentine’s Day tasting event that highlights a delectable sweet for you & your sweetie–Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup. Owner Tina Clark will be here to let us sample the syrup, to share some fabulous sweet and savory recipes you can make using the syrup, and to tell us about her business. To get us ready for the event, I have interviewed Tina about how she got started, some of her favorite recipes, and what she finds most satisfying and most challenging about her business.

Tina Clark, owner of Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup.

The BG: Tina, tell us about the history and origins of Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup. What circumstances led to the creation of your coffee syrup?

Tina: I have always loved to bake. I remember in high school, I had to do a “demonstration speech” for English class – and I chose to demonstrate how to make sugar cookies. I actually glued cookies to the cookie sheet so I could hold them up for the demonstration! Now that’s passion.

After a long career in marketing at Kodak, I was laid off. As a way to remain close to my best friends,  we started doing craft shows together. I was making flavored sugar cubes—for example, pumpkin spice sugar cubes shaped like little pumpkins. They were adorable and delicious and I really enjoyed this side-gig.

As I searched for inspiration and recipes online, I saw DIY syrups on Pinterest and was intrigued. I didn’t invent coffee syrup—it originated in Rhode Island to make “coffee milk” (think chocolate milk, but with coffee syrup), but I created and perfected my own recipe. I developed the recipe using only real coffee and organic sugar, and a production method that resulted in Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup, which is a nice, thick syrup with a very smooth coffee flavor.

At a local craft show, I offered samples of coffee milk made with my syrup and got rave reviews! People really loved it, and I sold out of my entire first batch of bottles! At that point I decided to figure out how to take this from my home kitchen to a full-fledged retail product.

Over the next couple years, while still working a corporate job, I did all the work necessary to launch a food product. I researched the specialty food industry, perfected my recipe, got the required documentation in place, found a co-packer and a local coffee supplier, and developed my packaging. Environmental sustainability was an important factor to me—I didn’t want to put any more plastic into the environment—so I chose glass bottles. I also wanted the label to reflect the organic and all-natural nature of the products. My best friend Jenny, who luckily is a professional designer, designed my label, I found a local label printer, and I was ready to go.

Since launching in late 2016, I’ve grown from one retailer to over 25 local retailers, and I also sell online. I’ve also begun to expand my product line with Salted Coffee Caramels and other treats that I make for events. I will have a few more new products coming out soon too, which is very exciting!

The BG: That IS exciting! Can’t wait to try whatever delicious new things that you make. So what are some of your favorite recipes using the syrup?

Tina: I really love making the 5-Minute Fudge–a microwave recipe that is so easy to make, it’s almost criminal. It comes out smooth and soft and so chocolatey! And yes, you could eat a whole jar with a spoon!

I love to experiment, though. I’ll often look for a recipe that calls for maple syrup or brown sugar and then swap in Coffee Syrup. That’s how I came up with the Buzzy Corned Beef recipe. I had never really liked Corned Beef, but when I made it with the Coffee Syrup (and Guinness), it was so good, I make it even when it’s not St. Patrick’s Day!

Another favorite is Coffee Lemonade, which I made last summer after reading that it was a hot new trend. I, of course, developed a recipe using my Coffee Syrup, and wow, was it good! It’s my new go-to drink for summer. I’m sure this could be made even better with a splash of vodka. 🙂

The BG: I have made that fudge recipe, Tina, and I can attest to its deliciousness as well as to how easy it is to make. It would be a really nice Valentine’s Day gift for someone. I’ve got to say, though, that Sweet & Cute Coffee Syrup is really good just on ice cream.

Tina: Yes, it’s true! When I sample my Coffee Syrup over ice cream, I get some wonderful reactions: from “that’s the best thing I ever put in my mouth,” to “I think I just had a foodgasm!”

The BG: Indeed, and I will not comment further on that one. 🙂 I will instead skillfully shift to a different topic: what do you find most satisfying and most challenging about your business, Tina?

Tina: The most satisfying part of my business is knowing that I am making a product that people love. It really makes me happy to know that I can bring a bit of joy to people’s lives. I’m also very proud of the choices I’ve made to be as earth friendly as possible, from packaging in glass to using paper cups and wooden spoons for sampling.

The most challenging part of my business has been understanding all the elements needed for a specialty food business. There are many things to consider, especially when it comes to food safety, manufacturing and sustainable packaging options for new products.

The BG: Yes, the legalities of the food business can be quite overwhelming. But we’re very glad you persisted!! So what would you most like us to understand about your business?

Tina: I want people to know that our business ethics is rooted in both passion and compassion: passion for quality, natural ingredients, creating delicious unique products, and making something to be proud of, and compassion for our communities, our environment, and the world around us.

The BG: And that is precisely why Locavore is proud to carry Sweet & Cute Products: we share your values and we celebrate what your coffee syrup brings to our taste buds and to our communities. Thank you, Tina!!! I will now eat all the coffee syrup!!