Jan Hogrewe was raised in Burbank, California. Her father had passed away before she was born, and her mother had a dress shop, so “a dear woman named Gracie helped raise me. Gracie nurtured my love of baking and let me help her in the kitchen. We pulled taffy, made peanut brittle, and I loved lemon meringue pie! Her daughter had a farm in Northern California, where we got lots of fruit, and Gracie taught me to can.”
“From those earliest experiences, being in the kitchen has always been therapeutic, creative, and a happy place to be. Nothing scares me. I have always loved to experiment, and I still have my hand-written recipes from those happy moments in the kitchen.”
Growing up in Burbank, it’s no surprise that Jan eventually became involved in the film industry. Another love as a child had been dancing and she had wanted to be an actress, but she came to realize that she was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. After enjoying a career producing featurettes and behind-the-scenes films, the film industry had changed. “It just wasn’t fun or creative any more.”
Circumstances in Jan’s personal life had changed as well, so it seemed like a good time to think about a new enterprise. Meeting a friend for coffee at Starbucks, she had brought her a jar of her homemade fig spread. A person at the next table struck up a conversation and asked if he could taste it too. It turned out he was in the food business, and when he said the fig spread was the best he’d ever tasted, wheels started turning.
“We negotiated a consulting deal, and I came up with 8 flavors to start. My twin daughters were my taste testers, so they ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches their whole senior year of high school,” Jan laughs. “I met with a food scientist, and I instinctively carried out my own experiments with shelf life by putting my jams in our walk-in wine closet and watching to see what would happen with them over time.”
After a year spent meeting everyone in the food business she could and working on her flavors, logo, she was in a packaging meeting in a restaurant, and again a stranger joined in. “She was a buyer of non-perishables for a national chain, and we ended up having a 5-hour meeting. She tasted my samples, and I was coming out with other ideas on the fly, including savory flavors. In the end she committed to placing the jams nationally as soon as they were ready. What a blessing, to be able to begin manufacturing, knowing that I had sales…..The kindness of strangers.”
Looking towards the future when she would want to expand her product line beyond jams, Jan had decided to name her company Just Jan’s. After that decision, her mother told her, “Before your father passed away, when I was 7 months pregnant with you, he asked me to name our baby daughter, ‘just Jan.’ “ Jan says she may have heard that story as a young child, and it stayed in her subconscious. When her mother learned of her business name, she reminded Jan, and it solidified the decision for her company’s name.
Another step on the serendipitous ride that’s been the growth of Just Jan’s was getting to know Kris Mason. “He was with Gelson’s Market, where I shopped, and I brought him samples. Over a couple of years, he became a sounding board and then started generating new ideas for the business. With his background in business and marketing, an entrepreneur’s mindset, his great cooking skills, and his enthusiasm for the products, he was clearly the business partner that I needed.”
“The skills that Kris and I have dovetail very nicely, so we make a great team. As I relive the moments that have brought Just Jan’s to this point, I am so grateful for everyone who has supported me. It’s me in every jar, loving this so much. I’m excited to see where it goes every day.”