What started as a search for a unique wedding favor turned into a business venture for Ossining couple Brandalyn and Warren Williams. While planning their wedding, they set out to give their guests a personalized memento to remember their nuptials, something different from the usual gift options.
“I just wanted the wedding favor to be useful,” said newlywed Brandalyn, who tied the knot with husband Warren in October. “Tell me how many weddings you’ve been to and the favor is whack?”
The couple looked to Warren’s mother, Patricia, for inspiration. A Jamaican immigrant and passionate home cook, she would frequently clip her homegrown seasonings to add a special touch to her family’s meals.
“She would talk about why she would put seasonings in her food and what the health benefits were and just some reasoning behind it,” Brandalyn said.
“I laughed at (Brandalyn) when she first said ‘I’m gonna do spices,’” Warren recalled. “I was like, ‘Really?’”
The couple began researching and taste-testing various spice blends from small distributors, settling on a trio of personalized spices: a pepper blend, jalapeno salt and a smoked mesquite salt. During the process, the Williamses, who long dreamed of becoming entrepreneurs, joked about turning their favors into a side business.
Returning from their two-week honeymoon, Brandalyn and Warren found themselves fielding a barrage of messages from their former wedding guests with requests for more spices.
“When people said, ‘I’ve used all of mine, I need more,’ we were like, ‘Oh, this might be bigger than what we were jokingly thinking about when we were packaging these for the wedding,’” Brandalyn said.
The couple decided to start their business, WillYUM Spices, and invested about $13,000 in their venture. They consulted with business coaches and enlisted Hudson Valley Graphic Design in Croton-on-Hudson to create their brand’s logo before launching their online store in May. WillYUM markets six spice blends packaged in 4-ounce glass jars that range from $6 to $9. Along with the three mixes offered at their wedding, customers can purchase curry seasoning, red pepper flakes or turmeric.
Though the spices are ground and mixed off-site, the couple chooses the seasoning blends and does all packaging and shipping from an open corner of Warren’s parents’ unfinished basement in Rockland County, which offers more space than their own Ossining townhome.
“It gets a little interesting in here,” Brandalyn said of the workspace.
The Williamses work with a number of small distributors scattered across the U.S. who source their spice ingredients from around the world. Sea salt is imported from the north shore of France, while turmeric is cultivated in India. They package their spices at least once a week and order blends in small batches to ensure their offerings are fresh.
“We’re just making sure that you’re not getting something with a bunch of pesticides or MSG,” Brandalyn said. “We’re making sure that they’re just quality.”
The couple said about half of their total sales are made at area farmers markets, including ones in Peekskill, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Aside from their quality products, Warren said, WillYUM’s stands at the markets attract interest “because of our logo and because we’re African-American. You don’t see too many of us selling stuff at a farmers market.”
“For us to be just a husband and wife, newlyweds, starting a new business, sometimes we do between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, and we’re like this is just the start,” Brandalyn said.
In addition to putting in 20 to 25 hours per week on their spice business, the Williamses are both employed in full-time day jobs. Brandalyn works as a makeup artist for Fox Business Network and freelances for weddings and Broadway shows. She also teaches her stage makeup art as an adjunct professor at SUNY Purchase. Warren is a surgical technologist at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow.
“There’s been a lot of late nights,” Warren said of juggling their multiple jobs. Eventually the couple hopes to run their WillYUM business full-time.
Later this fall, the company plans to offer proprietary blends and the entrepreneurs have already enlisted Warren’s mother Patricia to give her opinions on their mixes.
“It’s always nice to get that Mom approval,” she said.
The couple hopes eventually to “cut out the middle man” and move to a larger manufacturing space to grind and blend their own mixes in-house. Still, they want to ensure they’re not getting ahead of themselves.
“His parents are really supportive,” Brandalyn said. “Of course we’re talking to people about a more industrial space, but we figured if anything could help a small business, it’s keeping the overhead low.”
Though WillYUM launched only a few months ago, the couple already has their sights on the future, brainstorming ideas about launching a food truck, opening a casual coffee shop, expanding their offerings to other specialty food items and creating partnerships with area restaurants.
“There’s a lot of things on the horizon,” Warren said.