Sweet treat is hard to beat

Made at Edible Enterprises food incubator

Natasha Raymond Jones vividly remembers Southern Fixings Pralines’ first $50 order, a memory she fondly recalls as her business is expected to exceed $50,000 this year.

“We are looking to grow,” Jones said. “The next big account we’re focusing on is Rouse’s and working to scale up to handle the account. They’re big on local and their customers are fixed on local.”

They like quality, which is why she keeps a close hold on how her business grows in a food incubator in Norco. She praised the location for support, allowing them use of candy kettles, being able to package her products and deliver them to her growing list of customers.

“Now, we make over 3,000 pralines every Saturday at Edible Enterprises … getting ready for the week coming in,” Jones said. “It made me feel so secure. I know this place is there. You get the whole kitchen. They also have two meeting rooms. Everything a small business owner needs is there.”

She cooks the pralines there with help from her husband, Desi, and they quickly learned there’s a great market for these treats.

“Everything we do at Edible is handmade,” Jones said. “We do it all.”

Natasha Raymond Jones stirring the pot for her original pralines.

When Jones and her husband decided to start their business, they attended the 2016 catapult program given by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation where they learned about serve safe certifications, business and marketing taught by Diane Sclafani and FDA approval with Cathy Chapman, which guided their setup at Edible Enterprises.

Sanjay Kharod, executive director of the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, which oversees the incubator, has helped them be successful.

“Ken, the owner of St. Rose First Stop gave me my first start as a business owner in St. Rose by letting me put my first pralines in his store – we sold out completely,” Jones said.

Jones, a native of New Orleans, said they earlier lived in St. Rose and now live in LaPlace.

From the incubator, the pralines made their way to Majoria’s Supermarket, Frank’s supermarkets, Chevron and the Shell Jester, both U.S. Highway 90, Destrehan Plantation, Destrehan Pharmacy, Dorignacs, Roberts, Matherne’s and all Langenstien supermarkets. The couple is also bringing their products to festivals, where sales also have been great.

She also gets orders by Internet, which takes her pralines just about anywhere.

Many orders come from Texas where Louisianans relocated after Hurricane Katrina. Jones said they’re telling her the pralines there are more like caramel.

The secret to her success is no secret at all.

“Some of the recipe is my mom’s and I tweaked it to my own style,” Jones said. “My mom liked them hard and I liked them soft. They are bite size and it’s like biting into a soft cookie, but it’s actually a praline.”

Natasha Raymond Jones bagging pralines for customers for the Christmas season.

And, yes, there are ‘flavors.’

Rum, chocolate, coffee, coconut, toasted coconut and her famous wedding cake are now available in her product line. But she added there can be as many as 50 flavors of pralines that she brings to the festivals, which typically sell out.

Her latest product is praline cake, which her sister bakes and Jones tops with a still warm mixture of praline. They’re shipped frozen.

For this business owner, Dec. 31, 2015 was the pivotal date of getting Food and Drug Administration approval to start producing her pralines at Edible Enterprises and sell them commercially.

After working as a Walmart manager for 18 years, Jones decided to listen to her husband who coaxed her into doing what she loved most. She’d been making the pralines for friends, but decided to turn it into a business.

The move made sense, particularly with friends in the grocery business in St. Charles Parish, Orleans Parish and into Baton Rouge, in areas outside of the heavily praline saturated market of New Orleans. They all helped market her pralines.

And it went well.

It should with Jones’ praline schooling going back to childhood.

Standing on a chair alongside her mother at the stove, Jones fondly recalled making pralines at a young age with her mother.

“She would let me stand on a chair right next to her and stir the candy mixture while she added the pecans,” Jones said.“The whole neighborhood (Press Park), located in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, knew when we were making pralines because they could smell the vanilla coming straight through our kitchen screen door.”

It became a sweet memory that followed her in life and energized her move into following her passion.

“I just feel so blessed that I’m able to do this at my age,” Jones said. “I just wish I could have started this many years ago, but I believe things happen for a reason.”

A sweet treat

What is a praline? A confection with minimum nuts and sugar. Cream is a common ingredient. The treat has become synonymous with New Orleans

Who? Chef Clement Lassange is credited with inventing the praline.

Where? The candy came to America with French settlers who came to Louisiana, and it was adapted with local ingredients such as pecans and brown sugar.

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