The story of the salt industry in Syracuse is the stuff of legend and a tale of the early development of the city. In the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s Syracuse produced more salt than any other place in the United States, rightfully earning the name: The Salt City.
Now in the 21st Century a father and daughter team is endeavoring to return that claim to fame to Syracuse. David Iannicello and Libby Croom are the owners of Syracuse Salt Co., a company that inherited its name from one of the last salt producers in Syracuse over 100 years ago.
In 2015 David and Libby started Syracuse Salt fully intending to revive the history and legacy of “the Salt City.” They were right on the cusp of the “foodie” trend where serious cooks were becoming as aware as professional chefs of the importance of salt in food preparation. Libby brought her public relations skills and David his own knowledge of flavor balance from his years of restaurant experience.
Starting the business in a conventional manner was of the utmost importance, so they agreed that flavored sea salt would make a wonderful product offering. Over the past few years they have grown their selection to 16 flavored sea salts and 3 natural flavors in their product lineup. These salts are now sold in over 40 stores in New York State, at farmers markets and to professional chefs as well.
Not content with just flavoring sea salt, the pair knew there was magic in the phrase “salt from the Salt City.” So, they set about to produce their own salt at their newly acquired location in the Syracuse Inner Harbor area. They knew that there was salt in considerable quantity in the brackish water that runs far below that area of the city, so they decided to drill a well. Before doing so they turned to the Small Business Development Center at Onondaga Community College for assistance with their business plan and financial projections required to take their idea to the bank for financing.
After four years of chasing their idea, researching and doing thorough testing, they finally realized their goal. At 280 feet underground they found the water that was needed through an age-old process of warming and evaporating it, producing a clean and crisp salt flake full of healthy minerals. The new “Salt City” vision was in sight.
Commenting on the Syracuse Salt process David Lenweaver of Clean Slate Farm, a retail partner, said, “Dave’s knowledge of salt is extremely thorough, right down to the mineral composition of the brine he uses and the ingredients used in his flavored salts.”
Then, as with many businesses this size, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt and retail sales began to dwindle, although on-line website sales continued to gain traction with would-be chefs staying at home. They made sure that their website was easily find-able on the internet and that on-line ordering was easily accessible. Additionally, they began using social media effectively to drive traffic to the site. But their retailers have also stuck with them as have their restaurant chefs because the new product “Salt City Flake” was being overwhelmingly well received.
The question became how to keep the business running in the face of the impact of the pandemic. Again, they turned to the SBDC for assistance with loans and grants that were available for pandemic financial relief. Paul Brooks, senior business advisor, assisted the pair in navigating the initial complexities of the SBA Economic Injury loan process and the local grant opportunities, especially the Syracuse Economic Development Corporation loan fund. Brooks said, “working with David and Libby is a distinct honor since these two dedicated entrepreneurs are determined to restore glory to the notion of the “Salt City.”
Now that business is beginning to somewhat return to normal, David and Libby predict they will produce over 2,000 pounds of flake salt this year. And that is just the beginning. With an emphasis on social media marketing and a retail partner network consistently growing, the future looks “salty.”
In a recent discussion the entrepreneurs agreed on their principal business objective: “To produce a product that we are happy with, is sustainable, and that we are proud to put our name on.”
Syracuse Salt Co. products can be found at many local specialty retailers and on the web at: syracusesaltco.com
Article published in the 'The Central New York Business Journal' on October 12, 2020
Article by Paul Brooks, a certified senior business advisor at the Small Business Development Center’s Tech Garden satellite office in downtown Syracuse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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