Topsy Toffee is about as basic a start-up as you can get. One man started working by himself making a product and selling it. The product just happens to be toffee.
Tucker Juan is 28, grew up in Atlantic Beach and went to The Bolles School. He graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a major in political science and a minor in environmental science. But he soon found out those weren’t particularly employable degrees.
“I tried to get a job in environmental studies,” he said. “But everywhere I went, they wanted a masters or experience.”
So he started working at Whole Foods but had his eye on a business of his own.
“My grandfather was one of my greatest role models and he had a successful business, Atlantic Marine,” Juan said. “My father was a lawyer, and he was self-employed. I wanted to do that myself.”
He tried to start a business building raised gardens.
“I handed out a lot of flyers in Avondale,” he said, “but it didn’t go well. No one was interested.”
Then something else began coming together.
“I remembered my mother’s toffee recipe,” he said. “Everyone liked it when we gave it to teachers and neighbors. Then I saw a commercial for Legal Zoom about a woman who started a toffee business and became a millionaire. And I had a friend in Colorado who started a hummus business, selling it at farmer’s markets. Now she’s in Whole Foods.”
He started going to classes at JAX Chamber on starting a business. He went through all the paperwork, found a space in Jax Kitchen on Emerson Street and started handing out samples.
“I started with a small snowball and it started rolling pretty quickly,” he said.
He went to Riverside Arts Markets and would sell out. He just had cellophane bags with his logo on it then.
“But I knew I couldn’t get into stores in cellophane,” he said. “I started thinking about boxes, but decided on jars. I hadn’t seen any other toffee companies with jars.”
He has two sizes: 3 ounces for $6 and 8 ounces for $12. He’ll sell 80 jars on a Saturday morning at RAM.
The name Topsy, by the way, comes from a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
He came up with the logo, featuring a girl in a kayak, with a friend from high school, Anna Nord.
“She did the graphics,” he said. “And that saved me a lot of money. Graphics designers wanted thousands of dollars. I wanted a feminine feel to the packaging. I wanted a delicate feel, not masculine or mundane.”
One by one he started getting into local businesses. Pine Grove Deli, Design Edition and others put his stuff out for customers.
“My biggest sale during the holidays was when doctors’ offices were buying it and giving it as gifts,” he said. “Then I went to a two-day show on St. Simons and I was sold out halfway through. I had to rush back to Jacksonville and make some more.”
The farmer’s market in Fernandina Beach has been big for him, he said, along with ArtWalk and Jaxon’s Night Market here in Jacksonville.
Juan makes four standard flavors, with a fifth seasonal. He’s added a production manager, Grace Chepenik, and his sales are up to 800-1,000 a month.
As far getting in chains, that hasn’t worked out yet.
“I’ve been talking to them,” he said, “but we haven’t signed any contracts. I’m working at getting certified for Native Sun, but they want information about where the butter comes from. I use Land O’ Lakes, and I need to get that information from them.
“My biggest worry was losing money,” he said. “Now I wish I had started this sooner.”
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296