Stephanie McClenny makes exquisite small batch, locally-sourced jams and preserves. Houston McClenny has a way with financial strategy and numbers. Together, this husband and wife team, who own Confituras Jams and Moontower Services, are decidedly more than the sum of their parts. When Stephanie fell in love with jam and decided to leave her job as a school nurse to launch Confituras full time, Houston could see that she needed help with some of the nuts and bolts of the business. Like any good partner, he was there for her. Inspired by what he saw happening in Austin’s thriving local and sustainable food scene, and seeing a need for small business financial strategy in the community, he eventually left his position implementing accounting systems for large construction companies to focus on providing services for food artisans with small businesses. Houston’s mellow personality, quick mind, and deep understanding of the needs of small food companies makes him a great fit for Austin’s culinary entrepreneurs, and he now offers a full array of financial services, including planning, budgeting, forecasting, and simple accounting services–essentially helping small food businesses develop a clear vision of their goals and a strategy to help them get there. That his expertise and support allows for the creation of our favorite jars of intensely flavored, traditionally made jam makes us a little sweet on Houston too. The couple joins us this week to talk about the perils and pleasures of working together, what gets them to work in the morning, and their sources of inspiration as they work hard together to make their dreams come true.
What do you love about working together?
Stephanie: Houston intuitively knows what I need and what my business needs and I know how to ask for what I need–we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Houston: We’re always talking and communicating and learning how to work better together. It’s a new way of knowing someone you’ve known for a really long time.
What are the biggest challenges?
Stephanie: Keeping work separate from our romantic life. We’ve learned to schedule meetings with each other, so we can keep the business from bleeding into our home life.
Houston: It took me awhile to realize that Stephanie has a definite idea of what her business is about. I finally took a step back and said, “OK, this is what you are doing. How can I support that and accommodate what’s important to you?”
Tell your brand story in 5 words.
Stephanie: Fresh. Seasonal. Sweet. Pure. Love.
What gets you to work every morning?
Stephanie: I love working with new flavor combinations as well as single varietal jam flavors. I love the fact that, because I produce seasonally, I rarely get the chance to tire of working with one type of fruit or another.
Houston: With the people I work with, I feel we are in a battle each day. My focus is on the artisan food producer, so we are always working to get shelf space or get folks to come into our shops. My clients are always busy making their products. So I feel it is my responsibility to handle the business side of things and allow them to continue with their purpose of creating food that is good as well as responsibly produced.
What other businesses do you come back to again & again?
Stephanie: I love small business where I know the maker or owner well enough to ask how their mother is, to know where they source products or ingredients, and to even go have a glass of wine with them!
How do you measure success?
Stephanie: I am very happy when I know I have done my best and have been pushed just outside my comfort zone. I am also thrilled when another in my profession admires what I have done.
Houston: If you would have asked me a few years ago I probably would have given you some sort of financial ratio. As cliche’ as it sounds, I feel you are successful if you enjoy what you do and you are a responsible participant in your business community.
What was your first job?
Stephanie: I couldn’t wait to start working, so when I was 14 I lied about my age and got a job bussing tables at the Mexican restaurant across the street from my high school. Now I wish I could have those two years back!
Houston: I got a job when I was 15 at the local TG & Y. I worked in the garden center, which really didn’t seem like work at all. I stayed with it until the day I left for college.
If you weren’t running a successful jam factory, what would you be doing?
Stephanie: I am an RN and really miss the kids I worked with as a school nurse. If I were to return to this profession, I would look for something in the realm of food/nutrition/farm education.
What’s your next big idea?
Stephanie & Houston: There are always a few ideas rolling around, and most of them have to do with ways to promote and help the local food community. Austin has so many talented people, it is a shame that more people don’t know about or support them on a regular basis.
Stay tuned for more about Stephanie & Houston’s culinary inspirations and a new recipe with Confituras marmalade. In the meantime, enjoy these films about jam and food couples!