Christina Sleeper cut her culinary chops growing up just outside of Cleveland, Ohio in the industrial town of Lorain. Known as the “International City” because it boasted a population of immigrants from more than 50 countries.
“In my neighborhood, there were families from Poland, Puerto Rico, and the Deep South,” she recalls. “And I’m Italian, German and Irish. I grew up with the authentic culinary influences of all our neighbors. The world was in my proverbial back yard, and these childhood experiences shaped my roots in food.”
Christina began cooking at a very young age. In a 6th grade French class she was given a recipe assignment to make a baguette. “My mother, being a darling of modern age convenience foods, took one look at it, chuckled and said ‘Go for it!’” Not knowing that a good baguette is quite a challenge, Christina persevered, and the bread turned out well. This impressed her mom, so she was given more cooking responsibilities and even prepared the thanksgiving turkey that year.
During college, Christina was a server at the 4-star Netherland Plaza hotel in Cincinnati. “The quality of dining in the hotel was exceptional and everything was made on premise from scratch. We had to know the ingredients in every dish, and be able to convey the taste to our guests, so I asked a lot of questions. The sous chef appreciated my enthusiasm and taught me everything I was willing to learn and more, including advanced knife skills which involved deboning a whole chicken.”
After college, Christina met and married Mark Sleeper who was a manager at another 4-star hotel and together they discovered a shared passion for food, wine and entertaining. During this time, Christina successfully pursued her childhood dreams of acting with work in commercials, training films, voice over and print campaigns. She also worked with many premier caterers. discovering a love for this work because every event was unique, requiring her to constantly learn new skills. “I could be bartending one day, cheffing a party for 50 the next and then be preparing a private dinner for two. This really taught me resourcefulness.”
In 1997, after the birth of their daughter, and with Christina’s acting career taking off, the family moved from Ohio to California. Life was great on the west coast until the 2008 recession hit and impacted both her and her husband’s careers. “No one was hiring so we decided we needed to create our own opportunity.”
They had been making and giving away homemade food gifts for years, including an original recipe seasoning they named “Sleeper’s Magic Rub.” They thought maybe this could be the foundation for a new business.
“Everyone loved this rub, and we were encouraged to sell it. We bootstrapped the entire venture drawing on our many diverse skills. We created the website and then went online to share the news of our new company with family and friends. Before long, sales rolled in.”
After their line of seasonings took off, they expanded their offerings to include jams. Christina has loved handcrafting preserves for over 25 years, learning canning basics from her mother-in-law. “My first jam was made with concord grapes from my mother’s property. It was magical for me to take fresh fruit and transform it into something completely different that tasted so vibrant. I was hooked!” To further her preservation education she became a Certified Master Food Preserver.
Since those early days, Sleepers has added other products that accent their seasonings and jams including teas, salts and gourmet gift baskets.
“The basics of our business haven’t changed. We’re still a family business working with family farms. We’re able to provide an exceptional quality in our products because of the relationships we have with the people who grow our ingredients. We work together to make every Sleepers product exceptional,” Christina said proudly, adding “Afterall, it’s an art and I’m just an artist, currently working in food.”