Photo Credit: Shanita Richards
How Shanita Richards Turned A $1 Yard Sale Find Into Michigan's Best Jam
Motor City Spreads might not have existed were it not for a yard sale in Michigan. One of the items up for grabs was a canning pot with a set of jars. With a price tag of just $1, there was no way Shanita Richards could pass up the opportunity. After a 15-year career in finance, Richards decided to stay home with her newborn daughter and had always toyed with the idea of canning. It was an activity that her grandmother enjoyed years ago. Now that she had her new purchase in hand, there was no turning back. Six years later, that incredible deal has turned into the best jam in the state.
The small, solo operation produces handcrafted, gourmet jams and jellies all meticulously and lovingly created by Richards in her South Lyon kitchen.
“The first thing is always safety, to make sure everything is safe,” she explained. “But then there are a ton of different spices and fruit combinations. I’ve always been a foodie. So I’m always like, ‘I tasted this, this is good.’ I make a Chai Apple Cider Jelly because I tried some apple cider. It was a recipe in a magazine, and it was so good. So I’m like, ‘I gotta make this into a jam.’ So I researched, tested a couple of them, and that’s a huge seller for me. It’s kind of unusual.”
According to Richards, the canning process is not necessarily hard, but it is time-consuming. She cuts almost everything by hand, visits the farms, and picks her own fruits.
“I have some suppliers that I get things from, but I’m very into it,” she said, “just making sure everything is perfect.”
The sweet and savory confections are the stuff a foodie dreams of, but Richards relishes the challenge of converting non-believers.
“For the people who don’t expect to like jam, I kind of make it my little mission to make people try something that they wouldn’t expect to like. I feel like that’s why it’s gourmet jam. It’s made to be used in other ways, not just ‘oh, I slathered some on toast and I bought it in the grocery store.’ No, that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re doing big flavors, bold flavors, and delicious flavors.”
Her Summer In The City Smoky Spicy Tomato Jam pairs perfectly with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, and the American Pie Apple Pie Jam is everything you didn’t know your oatmeal has been missing.
“It’s usually low-calorie too,” she added. “That’s a good thing because [Spicy Tomato] and Apple Pie are some of my least sugar, but most flavor. It’s a good balance if you’re not into super sweet.”
Other unique flavors include Blueberry Rhubarb Jam, Carrot Cake Jam, Jalapeño Apple Jelly, Cranberry Jelly Sauce, Blackberry Black Pepper Jam, Apple Cider Chai Jelly, Rock and Rye Jelly, and Pineapple Jam. Her menu typically averages between 12 and 16 different types of jam but can go as high as 50 during the holiday season.
Under Michigan’s Cottage Food Law, people can make and sell certain food items in their own homes without needing to purchase a food license or being subject to inspections. It’s a chance to make some money without shelling out a ton of cash up front, but a bit restrictive.
Richards eventually wants to move into a commercial kitchen, but for now plies her wares at craft shows, farmers’ markets, and artisanal events. She also delivers to Detroit, Ann Arbor, and the surrounding areas. At the height of the pandemic, she sold 2000 jars through deliveries and porch pick-ups alone. And the orders keep coming in.
“Positive feedback is really one of the things that keeps me going. Because sometimes canning is really, really hard. You’re tired, and you have 50 pounds of strawberries to process, and you know fruit doesn’t wait. When it’s ripe, and it’s perfect, you have to process it right then. Everything’s been very well received. And I’ve grown superfast, super shortly. And that’s been amazing because I kind of didn’t expect that. I was thinking it’d be like this little, tiny thing.”
And what about the neighbor who kicked this all off with her yard sale?
“I definitely gave her some jam a bunch of times as a thank-you. She started my journey.”
Find out where to purchase your jar at Motor City Spreads.