Jam Maker Dafna Kory Turns Hobby Into Thriving Business

by Sarah Henry on February 18, 2011 · 28 comments

in berkeley bites,canning & preserving,civil eats,food businesses,food foraging,fruit,sfgate site,vegetables

Dafna Kory discovered the delights of jalapeno jam during pre-dinner nibbles at a Thanksgiving gathering. She went out to buy a jar, couldn’t find the mighty spicy condiment anywhere, so she began experimenting with making her own. It became an instant hit among her posse.

At first the self-taught preserver thought her D.I.Y. hobby would just make nice gifts for friends and families. The she moved from San Francisco to South Berkeley, saw the abundance of plums, apples, and lemons growing in her new backyard, and a jamming business was born.

She foraged fruit in a hyper-local fashion. She made batches of jam in her home kitchen. She personally delivered by bike. Demand for her jams grew by word-of-mouth.

Friends who had friends who owned stores began encouraging her to branch out beyond her inner circle. So she started shopping INNA jam (the name is, indeed, a playful pun) to local places like Local 123, Summer Kitchen, Rick and Ann’s Restaurant and The Gardener.

About a year ago, with orders coming in a steady stream, it became clear that Kory, now 28, needed to either gear up and focus on turning her after-hours pastime into a fully-fledged business or scale back and remain a hobbyist. She decided to take the plunge.

Photo: Courtesy of INNA jam

A freelance commercial video editor, Kory hasn’t looked back. She began working in a commercial kitchen in North Berkeley, selling her pickles and preserves at events like ForageSF’s Underground Market and the Eat Real Festival, and offering workshops for other D.I.Y.ers.

The UC Berkeley graduate now spends nine months of the year working full-time on her budding food business, and supplements her income in the winter months with editing gigs.

In a year she hopes to devote 100 percent of her work day to INNA jam.  Kory also pickles, though that product line is on hiatus while she ratchets up production to meet demand for her increasingly popular jams.  She delivers locally by bike, ships interstate, and offers an annual, seasonal subscription (a 10-ounce jar retails for $12).

Last year, Kory was featured in a photo spread of local food artisans in the New York Times Magazine Food Issue. Not too shabby for a relative newbie.

A child of Ukrainians who emigrated to Israel, Kory has childhood memories of playing in fields and picking fruits like pomegranates and apricots in the small village north of Tel Aviv she called home. Although she now considers herself a California girl, moving to Orange County at age 10 was a huge culture shock.

She went from being a straight-A student to dropping out of high school. She dabbled in community college down South, and eventually found her way to UC Berkeley, where she designed her own major and began making documentary films before graduating in 2004.  She feels at home in the Bay Area.

We met last week on an unseasonably balmy February afternoon chat in the courtyard at Local 123, where there was ample parking for her bamboo tricycle.

 

Photo: Courtesy of INNA jam

What do you like the most about preserving?

I like transforming raw fruits or vegetables into something totally different while maintaining their essential taste. I find most jams too sweet and most pickles too salty; I like to work with the essence of the produce itself.

There are several local preservers — June Taylor, Blue Chair Fruit, and Happy Girl Kitchen — come to mind. What’s unique about what you do?

I focus on single varieties sourced locally; other local jammakers tend to mix fruits with other ingredients. I’m really trying to pull out the complexity of a variety, whether it’s a Polka raspberry, Seascape strawberry, or Blenheim apricot, and let its uniqueness, natural subtleties, and bright flavors shine.

That’s why when I first started and I foraged a lot of my own fruit, I’d name the jars after their location, like Russel Street Meyer Lemon Jam. The taste of these jams reflected the locations they were grown in. I think you can taste the difference.

And locally I deliver by bike, either my bamboo tricycle or the road bike hitched with a cargo trailer. I think I’m the only one who does that.

It’s a coup to land in an outlet like the New York Times Magazine so early in your career. How has that impacted your business?

Well, let me say first that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was fortunate to be included in the shoot with all the other local food artisans the magazine featured. It was an awesome nod to up-and-coming Bay Area food producers. But it wasn’t like it was a profile of me or my jams.

So, in that sense, I see more of an impact on business when a magazine like Sunset features my product in a photo and write up that says “this is good, buy this jam, now.”

What challenges have you faced launching a business in Berkeley?

It was hard to find a commercial kitchen with enough space for what I do. Making jam takes up a lot of room; you need a place for all those jars, space to prepare fruit, and the pots are big. That’s why I work from 5 p.m. to midnight when I can have the kitchen to myself and spread out.  I found a place on the Ohlone Greenway, so I can bike there, which is key.

Do you have a local food hero or mentor?

I have a lot of respect for June Taylor, she really set the stage for the rest of us. She elevated the art of jam making and eating jam as something of value and importance in this community.

Where do you like to eat out around town?

I enjoy eating at the counter at Summer Kitchen; that’s my go-to place for a meal. Their dinners are so good, like their fried chicken. You get a complete meal for a good price and everything is balanced, there’s mashed potatoes and market vegetables with the meat. I probably eat there once a week.

My favorite hole-in-the-wall Taqueria La Familia on Shattuck at Ashby. It’s totally Baja-style beer battered fish tacos. There’s nothing glamorous about the place but the food is good.

My boyfriend and I like to go to Jupiter and sit out in the courtyard on a nice day. We have pizza, salad, and beer — they have good micro-brews on tap.

 

Photo: Courtesy INNA jam

Who are your favorite food purveyors here?

We shop at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market because it’s near home and at Berkeley Bowl. I like Berkeley Bowl East because it’s downhill on the bike on the way home. My boyfriend likes Berkeley Bowl West because there’s more space and no people with clipboards out front.

Acme is my local bread of choice; it’s airy, crust, and super fresh. I like the baguette, whole wheat seed, walnut, rye — all of it. I can smell the bakery when I’m cycling by late at night (or early in the morning) from work. It’s a great accompaniment to my ride home.

Kory will teach two Meyer lemon preserving workshops at Local 123. Learn how to make Meyer lemon jam and traditional Moroccan preserved lemons Friday February 25 or Friday, March 11 from 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside, was republished on Civil Eats and cross posted on SFGate.

You might also like:

June Taylor’s Artisan Way With Fruit
Slow Food Folks Serve Fast Food with Style
A Shout Out for the Eat Real Food Festival
Shakirah Simley: Preserving Food, Seeking Justice
Food Foraging 101

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

NoPotCooking February 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

I’ll bet I would like her pickles – I agree with her that most are too salty. I love the idea of focusing on one variety of a fruit to make a jam.
NoPotCooking´s last [type] ..Tilapia with Smoked Salmon

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Me too, NPC, in this case it really works.

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merr February 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I am so happy to know about this. I happen to think jams make lovely gifts and are fun to have in assortment around the house.

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Agreed, merr.

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Kerry Dexter February 26, 2011 at 2:46 pm

great to read of an independent business person having the courage to go for it, and to be getting off to a great start. the jams sound tasty, and good to see she’s giving workshops as well.
Kerry Dexter´s last [type] ..Galway Afternoon

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

there are so many folks starting their own businesses, and so many don’t last the distance, but dafna kory seems to have what it takes. i’m curious to keep track of her culinary career.

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Sheryl February 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I love the image of the bamboo tricycle – adds to the allure of the meyer lemon jam.

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

yes, she’s got quite the retro chic going on.

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Alexandra February 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I love success stories like this one!
Alexandra´s last [type] ..More Raves for Cape Cod

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

agreed!

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Jane Boursaw February 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Another fascinating profile, Sarah. I love this story, and love her business name, too. You can tell she really enjoys making jam – awesome.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Apollo 18- Creepy- Terrifying- Awesome

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Sarah Henry February 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

It’s a fun pun, isn’t it?

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Jeanine Barone February 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Hi Sarah, Fascinating interview. I love hearing about culinary-based businesses like this one.

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Sarah Henry February 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Thanks, Jeanine.

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Jill February 28, 2011 at 6:10 am

Hi Sarah,
Great read. What a wonderful success story. I wanted to start up my own business in France making macarons but it was just so complicated. It’s encouraging to read your story about Dafna: what a fun character, too. Just discovered your site via one of your articles about writing on the web. Great work and well said!

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Sarah Henry February 28, 2011 at 10:24 am

Welcome, Jill, I’m glad you found me. And thanks for sharing your story about the macaron biz. I think it’s good for folks to know that running your own small business has its challenges too. (And thanks, too, for the kind words about the “Will Write For Food, Payment Preferable” post.)

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MyKidsEatSquid February 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

I wish I lived closer I’d love to go to one of her lemon preserving classes. Anyway she’ll post something like that online?

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Sarah Henry February 28, 2011 at 10:25 am

I’ll ask, MKES, and let you know.

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Jennifer Margulis March 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

Thanks for this inspiring story. I’d like to take one of her classes too!

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