Family played a big part in Kristi Murray’s choice of a business, just as it did with her health over a decade ago.
“I was told I wouldn’t make it past my 20th birthday,” said Murray, owner of Gunnar and Jake’s Gourmet Foods.
Against all odds
The business owner was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare kidney disease, at the age of 17. She received a poor prognosis and was told she could never have any children.
Beating all medical obstacles, she got pregnant not once, but twice. Her first child, Gunnar, was born in 1999, followed by Jake in 2001.
Her family stepped up not too long after when her sister Lori donated a kidney in 2002. To this day, Murray’s health is still being watched closely. “I take 25 to 30 pills a day,” said the energetic entrepreneur.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio, Murray has fond memories of holiday festivities and home canning, which was a significant part of their family traditions.
“We canned everything during the winter,” says Murray, in between serving customers at the Calabasas Farmers Market this past Saturday.
Ultimately, it was natural for Murray to gravitate towards canning when she and husband Dennis Murray were scouting for a business to start.
Since September, Gunnar and Jake’s, named after the Murrays’ two sons, has been selling gourmet food items at four different farmers markets throughout the Southland.
“Everything is natural without any sugar added,” explains Murray. “We also use kosher salt, which has a lower sodium content.”
The family-run business is also in the process of becoming organically certified.
Soups like sauerkraut, white bean, lentil and an all-vegetable variety sell for $8 to $12 a jar.
There were eight kinds of pickled vegetables in the $10 to $15 price range including dill pickles, pickled beets, pickled turnips and Hungarian peppers.
Guacamole, salsa and a Mediterranean salad were also available in the $5 to $12 range.
“Here try our marinara sauce,” Murray said to a customer, handing her a small paper cup of the chunky tomato-based sauce to sample.
Priced at $12 a jar, the marinara sauce is one of Gunnar and Jake’s top-sellers, along with the pickles, Hungarian peppers and the stuffed jalapenos with prosciutto and cheese.
As part of the business’ recycling efforts, customers get a $1 break if they return a jar from a previous purchase.
“We’ve been selling a total of 50 to 75 jars a day,” Murray said. All of their items are also available on their Web site and also at the Whole Foods Market in Valencia. Carmelo Luis Café, a chain of cafes in Santa Clarita, also carries the gourmet food items.
Beginning in April, Gunnar and Jake’s products will also be sold at five to six other Whole Foods Market locations in Southern California. Also in the works are new products to launch including a barbecue sauce, hot wing sauce, applesauce and beef brisket.
“Everything that we’re doing now is for them,” says Murray, referring to her two boys who were sitting behind the counter. The family of four does everything together, including tending to their booth at the different farmers markets.
“You wait and see, Gunnar will be the youngest CEO yet,” says the proud mom, of her first-born.
*The Calabasas Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at 23504 Calabasas Road, across the street from the Sagebrush Cantina.