Ryan Coover, the man (along with his family) behind Coover Caramels, took some time off from making his sweet, buttery drops of heaven to answer a few questions. We find out what led him to start Coover, what has surprised him about starting his business, his go-to gift (spoiler alert) Coover Caramels, and more.
What were you doing before you started Coover Caramels?
I was using my creative license and my background as an architect to do my best as a stay-at-home dad. I have been successful because of my supportive wife, Shirien Coover. She is one of the finest physician assistants, and Central Austin Dermatology is lucky to have her. When she’s not working, she’s rocking the kids’ world with her loving touch! When we started Coover Caramels in 2014, our children, Layli and Kai, were six and four years of age.
How would you describe the taste of a caramel to someone who has never tried one?
So many people start by telling me they don’t like caramel. In fact, at my first corporate meeting, I was passing out samples to nine sales reps, and one said, “Oh, I don’t like caramel. Give it to Judy, she’ll eat it.” I kindly smiled and began to tell my story about why I was making caramels with my kids. About halfway through my story, I was abruptly interrupted with, “OH MY GOD – this is so GOOD!” This was the same person who was so adamant about not liking caramel. She really helped me seal the deal!
But looking back, I’ll never forget our first batch of caramel. It was so delicious that it brought tears to my eyes…. And that was just the beginning. Eating Coover Caramels is truly an experience. Not too sweet, not too sticky—they’re a rich, creamy, buttery sensation. Watch Layli at age three eating caramel right out of the tray. This really says it all.
What’s the most surprising thing about starting Coover Caramels?
I was surprised by how difficult the food industry is, even with a single product like caramels. As I launched into a simple project with my kids, I had no idea that I’d stumble into so many regulations at the local, state, and national levels. One regulation spawned another, and for each requirement I was completely unprepared. But as the orders kept rolling in, we just kept walking through the hoops… and now we’re off and running.
I was also surprised to discover that when you set out to produce a local product, you inevitably make a connection with the community, which is very powerful. For me, this connection is what it’s all about!
Do you have a favorite recipe that uses Coover Caramels?
My personal favorite is making caramel apples in our own creative way.
Here is a video of how I made them with the kids before bedtime.
What local products do you use at home?
Austin’s Good Flow Honey Company honey and Sweet Leaf organic mint and honey green tea are our family’s favorite local products. It seems like we really love our sweets!
But, my real favorite local products come from my neighbor: Mrs. LaFuente’s made-from-scratch salsa and chocolate cupcakes. I am not sure if you can get any closer to local than this, which is a kind reminder that food brings us all closer together. So, the next time you are test-kitchen’ it, open your door, knock on the door next to you, and share!
What is your go-to gift to give besides Coover Caramels?
You know, I can’t legally answer this one!
Tell us how we can Make Life Sweeter.
We started a social campaign called “Be More Than Just Sweet” after volunteering at SAFE: Stop Abuse For Everyone. As I help others, I also want to teach my kids to become servants to humanity. Here’s how you can help:
“Make every action brilliant!” – Ryan Coover
To learn more, please visit: http://www.coovercaramels.com/life-really-can-be-sweeter
In closing, I’d like to send a big, happy hugging thanks to Courtney, Carolyn, Sam, Rob, and the other friends at BATCH for their positive actions in supporting small batch makers like us. I love being able to call y’all family!
You know you're going to drink coffee and you know you'll need to take with it you. Then get this exclusive tumbler with a hand drawn illustration of the Nashville skyline. You'll have your coffee and a eye-catching tumbler.
Tame the Beast Body Lotion - $18
This moisturizing skin lotion is made with natural ingredients including aloe barbadenis leaf juice, guarana, chamomile, and green tea.
Ranger Station Oak Moss Candle - $30
Hand-poured in East Nashville, the Ranger Station Oak Moss candle "was inspired by early mornings of watching the sun rise over Little Blue Lake in Zimmerman, MN with a fresh cup of coffee."
These stylish bandanas are a cute accessory for any pup from the tiniest Teacup Chihuahua to brawny Bullmastiff. Handmade in East Nashville by Mutthead, they come in a variety of prints.
Southern City Flavors Dirty Martini Mix - $6
A simple way to make an iconic drink, Southern City Flavors Dirty Martini Mix is the bar staple every home cocktail bar needs. Just add gin or vodka and ice, then shake or stir.
Ashwood Estates Rub-a-Dub Baby Wash - $13
All natural and non-toxic, Ashwood Estates has made a baby wash that is gentle, soothing and light enough to bring relaxation and delight to bath time.
Ok, we know this not a new product but, wow! The new packaging for Olive and Sinclair's chocolate bars brings a fresh, clean design to one of our best sellers. In case you're looking for a reason to try an old favorite.
This charming spot with a scenic view of the Colorado River is known as one of the 10 hottest brunch spots in Austin. The Mother’s Day brunch buffet is the gift that keeps on giving with crab cakes, chicken and waffles, avocado toast, mac and cheese… We could go on but you’d better stop reading and call for reservations.
What were y’all doing before you started Muletown Coffee?
I was working for a music publishing and production company out of Florence, AL I met Chris one night in a coffee shop there called Rivertown Coffee. He was actually playing an acoustic set there one night. He’s a great singer-songwriter. I invited him over to the studio and we immediately became pals. We starting writing songs together and that’s really the foundation of our relationship. He had just moved up from Birmingham and was a “coffee guy.” He eventually moved back there and worked in the quality control lab for Royal Cup Coffee. We stayed in touch over the years and through an odd series of events both ended up in Columbia, TN. Chris had helped start a company called Seeds Coffee down in Birmingham and saw the potential here for something similar. He asked me if I’d be interested in helping him start a boutique roasterie and coffee shop. Long story short we put one foot in front of the other and here we are.
How would you describe coffee to someone who has never tried it?
Coffee is one of those simple pleasures that many people like myself had to grow into. I didn’t grow up liking coffee. Compared to Dr. Pepper it just didn’t do anything for me. It’s funny looking back because now, I can’t imagine my life without it. The joy is in the subtlety and ritual. The smooth sweet, molasses and dark chocolate notes are the most common and quintessential in my opinion. Specialty coffee can bring all kinds of citrus and berry notes. Dark roasts are smokey and rich. To each his own you know. If you don’t like one coffee that doesn’t mean you don’t like coffee, it very well may mean that you just haven't found the coffee for you.
What’s the most surprising thing about starting Muletown?
Being a part of a budding revitalizing downtown has been surprisingly fun. Our shop has become a gathering place for the community I never thought I’d be a part of something like that I’ve spent much of my life in coffee shops and they are very special to me. To know that our shop is that place for others is a good feeling.
What’s your favorite coffee flavored non-coffee?
Tough call between dark chocolate and ice cream.
How do you decide from where to source your coffee?
We’ve used a lot of importers over the last few years and have had good experiences all around. However this year one importer, Royal Coffee out of NY, that we’ve been partnered with for some time, invited us to go down visit some of the farms we buy from. That was really special. It’s a pretty normal thing for roasters to go to origin these days, but it was the first time for me. It really connects all the dots. To see these farmers and their families and to see the care and effort they put into their craft is inspiring It really makes you want to do your best as a roaster to really showcase what they have done. People always talk about buying ethically and that is very important to us too.You hear a lot of horror stories about farmers getting taken advantage of. Working with a reputable importer steers you clear of that kind of bad business. And, of course, going down to origin to create and actual friendship with the producers helps to ensure that you’re doing healthy and virtuous commerce.
What local products do you use at home?
I buy a lot of local stuff. It’s kind of a hobby I buy bread, milk, beer, vegetables all from local venders. Our local farmers market is a block from my house, it’s so great. It opens in June and I’m so excited.
What is your go-to gift to give?
Besides Muletown Coffee? Olive and Sinclair Chocolate. Always a hit.
Where should we go in Columbia (besides Muletown)?
If you’ve never been to Columbia, now is a great time. The downtown area is just beautiful. And it’s bustling with activity. Seems like a new shop is opening every month. It’s a great afternoon trip down from Nashville. Great food, great shopping. There’s a new local brewery called Asgard that sits just off the square by the Duck River. Too many to name everyone. You just gotta come down.
Here are the Gift Batch highlights from our Mother's Day Gift Collection:
Filled with the flavors and scents of Austin. The Benjamin Soap Co. basil mint candle and the Latika Body Essentials milk & honey lotion provide an escape for a moment. The sleek Newton Supply Co. Texas mug is ideal for Little City Coffee or Cat Spring Tea (also a pair of our Austin favs).
Inspired by the women in our lives, this gift set will pamper the mom who is always taking care of everyone else. These items are a relaxing getaway in a box (minus the stressful travel).
Packed with chocolate sauce, snacks, toffee, peanut butter, bar, and ganache, this chocolate overload is enough for any chocaholic. These treats are all handcrafted with many different kinds of chocolate.
With items for (almost) all of the senses, this gift is perfect for mom so she'll know that you're thinking of her. The special touches in this set include the luscious lavender soap and the grapefruit mangosteen candle.
What were you doing before you started Newton Supply Co.?
I finished grad school (MFA in Furniture Design) and got a job as a designer at a large national retailer, then moved to a smaller firm where I could oversee projects from start to finish and work directly with factories. I think it was that involvement in every step of the process - including the production - that motivated me to do my own thing.
What led you to start your business?
Several years ago, I began sewing bags from leftover upholstery scraps in my spare time, and eventually that led to some local craft shows. I quit my job and started working as a freelance designer, still working on mass-produced pieces for large companies, but found myself more drawn to being a maker. After I realized this could be my full-time thing, I rebranded and started Newton.
Tell us about your partnership with Open Arms?
Working with Open Arms has been the best thing to happen to my business! I needed outside manufacturing help, but really struggled with the idea of outsourcing and wanted to find the right fit - and still have involvement in the production side of things. It just seemed to click right away with them, and we’ve grown our partnership from production of a few items, to almost all of our bags. I’m able to remain involved in the whole process and get to know the women making our products, which is amazing.
Has a president ever mentioned Newton Supply Co.?
Hmm, funny you should ask! Yes, actually… this past September I was invited to participate in a roundtable meeting with President Obama, as well as several CEO’s, to discuss how the corporate sector can provide assistance to refugees. In his speech to the press, he mentioned how we are growing our partnership with Open Arms - it was pretty surreal! Since almost all of the companies at the meeting were huge corporations, they invited me to represent small business owners, and I spoke about refugee employment and assistance after resettling in the US. (And I got to sit between President Obama and George Clooney!)
You're packing your bag for a weekend getaway, what are three essential items?
I’m not sure that I have essential items, but more of an essential packing method - I like to be as prepared and organized as possible, but take as little as I can. Usually I end up taking our overnighter with a few smaller pouches inside to stay organized, and try to avoid having to carry liquids to make airport security easier. Benjamin Soap Co’s lotion bars are definitely a travel staple in that regard!
Where's your favorite weekend getaway?
I’d say either West Texas or New Orleans…total opposites in many regards, but both near and dear to my heart.
Besides bags, what else do you make?
Since our Texas print is so popular, we starting offering it on drinkware and pillows as well.
What locally-made products do you use?
Our waxed canvas is hand-waxed in Houston, and our supplier is actually moving to Austin later this year! We also work with local printers (Elgin and San Antonio) to screen print the fabric for our Texas bags.
What is one of your favorite gifts to give?
I love gifting a pouch or bag filled with goodies, whether it’s a cosmetic bag filled with locally-crafted soaps and candles, or a market tote filled with local special food items (Barton Table and Great Bean are some of my go-to’s.) Many of my friends and family are spread across the country, so giving something local gives me a way to show off Austin.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making bags (and more)?
I think I will always feel the need to create, whether it is bags, furniture, textiles etc - but if I had to do something entirely different, I’d love to study applied animal behavior.
Pour boiling water from a kettle or pot into a small bowl. Add mint leaves; stir until wilted. Add honey; stir until dissolved. Let mixture stand until cool; strain and discard mint. Combine 2 oz. bourbon with honey mint syrup. Pour bourbon mixture over crushed ice in frosted tumbler or tall glass. Garnish with mint sprigs.
The gift wrapped mailer is shipped inside a carton. Not only does this protect the items inside the box but it also makes for a pristine packaging when it arrives.
In addition to sending our favorite finds from Nashville, Austin, and around the South, each box has a custom insert card highlighting the makers. We highlight the people behind the products so you can get to know the small business men and women following their passion.
Here's what our subscribers discovered in the family deluxe box:
From Honest Coffee in Franklin, TN, there's a double shot of their Double Axes blend. When asked to explain coffee to someone who has never had it, Brett Henry, the founder of Honest Coffee Roasters, offered, "Gertrude Stein said that “Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening.” I think that sums up how I feel about this mysterious drink that is loved and consumed by so many people."
Sweet Stash, our neighbors at the Nashville Farmers' Market, baked a chocolate cupcake with decadent vanilla icing.
Ruby Ridgetop makes all natural, plant-based body products including this organic beeswax lip balm that is excellent for healing chapped lips.
From Ashwood Estates we included Foam It, their all natural foaming hand and body wash. The combination of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary will make your hands feel and smell fresh. For your home, Ashwood Estate's Clean It Up is the perfect multi-purpose spray to clean, disinfect, and degrease.
For when you're in the mood for a fresh-from-the-over breakfast treat, we've provided the Sea Salt and Buttermilk Biscuit Mix from Forage South. We wouldn't have included the biscuit mix if we didn't have a plan for them so top them with the Orange Chile do Arbol Marmalade made in Austin by Confituras.
CatStudio makes iconic towels and pillows inspired by cities and countries and more so we included the Nashville dish towel with many of our favorite destinations.
Gift wrapped and ready for the lucky recipient, our Women's Standard Batch Subscription Discovery box is an edited selection of our deluxe box.
The next box ships in May so order today.
What were you doing before you started TruBee?
I was a newspaper copy editor for Gannett, which publishes several papers here in Tennessee, and Jeff Otto, my husband, is a professional photographer.
What led you to start your business?
It was gradual. We started out tinkering with honeybees in our back yard after I wrote an article about a beekeeper. After a while, we had a honey surplus, so we started selling honey at the Franklin Farmers Market in 2011. We quickly learned that there is an insatiable appetite for raw honey, so we decided to give TruBee Honey a full-time effort and wholesale it to retailers. (Our first Nashville customer was The Produce Place on Murphy Road.)
Operating TruBee Honey also gives me the freedom to be available when our daughter gets home from school, which I could never do when I was working nights and weekends at newspapers.
Can you tell where a honey is from by its taste?
In some cases, yes. For example, orange blossom honey almost always comes from Florida, and manuka honey comes from New Zealand and Australia.
Wildflower honeys are harder to pin down, since they have so many different kinds of nectar in them. Our Wildflower Summer honey is predominantly clover nectar, while our Tennessee Spring vintage has a floral taste because bees are making it from the nectar of spring-blooming plants. It's everything from apple and blueberry blossoms to the tiny white flowers on holly bushes and the sought-after black locust bloom.
Speaking of, black locust trees are indigenous to Tennessee and bloom for only about a week to 10 days. They have these pendulous, white blossoms that kind of look like grapes, and every year we get excited about it. It's a tricky bloom to "catch" though, because spring weather here is so unpredictable; if it decides to bloom during a week of rain, forget it! (Keep your eyes peeled ... the 2017 bloom is about to happen. Look along the sides of highways, against the tree line.)
Is there such a thing as a honey sommelier?
If there is, I bet he or she is an a--hole. In our culture of food experts and micro-everything, there probably are folks out there who are honey tasting experts, but I'm not one of them. My mom buys us raw honey from all the places she travels, and it's fun to think about how they reflect the "terroir" of the region in which they were made, which is a lot like tasting wine.
What are the benefits of local honey?
Honey in general is beneficial in that it is a natural sugar substitute. Also, we have many customers who eat our raw honey because they want to eat local pollens. While I'm not a medical expert, the theory is that if you eat the pollens you are allergic to in small doses, it may reduce your allergies to those pollens. We have customers that swear by this remedy, and we even have a family that buys our honey every year before making a trip from New Jersey to Nashville.
Besides honey, what else do you make?
We also offer two beeswax products, our all-natural beeswax lip balm, and our Beeswax Rub. I started making the lip balm because I've always been a lip balm addict. The consistency of the lip balm brand I had always bought seemed to change, so I figured how hard could it be to make something better?
The Beeswax Rub is a moisturizer, but we've found that it's also being used for things like tattoo aftercare, beard wax, and even to condition leather goods and wood chopping blocks. We have a customer in North Carolina whose son is a guide in Alaska; she sends him several tins each year, and he uses it to protect his face from the cold, dry air.
What locally-made products do you use?
There are so many! In our fridge we have Noble Springs chevre (which is delicious drizzled with our Tennessee Spring honey vintage) and Hatcher Family Dairy milk. In our bathroom we have Ma Bella goat milk soaps and Little Seed Farm deodorant cream, and in our pantry we have Walker's Bloody Mary Mix, Eli Mason syrups and a couple of bottles from Corsair. (We used to have some Prohibition Popcorn and Soberdough bread mixes, but they always disappear.) And don't forget Jackalope ... we have been known to trade honey for beer.
What is one of your favorite gifts to give?
Anything made by Anderson Design Company. At Christmas time, we gave several of their National Parks 100th anniversary coloring books. This is one of those one-size-fits-all gifts, especially given the popularity of "adult" coloring books. Our daughter loves it, and my 80-year-old second cousin loves it because she's been to many of the places, but can't travel now. Also, their poster-size prints or postcards (of anything from Nashville landmarks to exotic foreign cities) are affordable and thoughtful gifts.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making honey?
We don't "make" the honey, but if we weren't robbing bees of their honey, we'd be bodysurfing the waves of the Carolinas. Or planning our next business ... once you start thinking like an entrepreneur or marketer, it's really hard to turn it off.