Having some familiarity with Ila’s foods I fully expected to enjoy meeting founder and owner, Debra Kilcup. What I didn’t expect was to walk out at the end of our interview with two cases of Christmas Razzle Dazzle Jelly and 12th Man Jam to give friends and neighbors during the holidays. Debra claims that she is not a natural born salesperson but her passion for her products makes it hard not to want to take home a few jars of her gourmet treats.
“The real salesperson in the family is my granddaughter Jaiden,” shares Debra. Jaiden has been attending holiday festivals and bazaars with her grandmother since she was four years old. Now 11, Jaiden spends her days chatting up potential customers, running the credit card machine and sharing samples of her namesake, Jaidenberry Jam – a mixed berry jam sweetened with organic agave.
Debra started her business with small batches of her mother’s famous blue cheese dressing made in her home kitchen. Her mother, Ila, had dreamed of bottling and selling the dressing she served in her restaurant but never realized her dream. Instead, her daughter Debra turned her recipe into a full line of over 80 unique jams, spreads and sauces. Today, Debra has a thriving business working out of a warehouse and commercial kitchen in Tumwater. The inventive mixing of unusual flavor pairings makes Ila’s Foods stand out from their competitors. Many of the flavors meld the sweet with the spicy, bringing out tastes never seen before in a jam such as Raspy Habañero Jam or Bluepeña, a blend of blueberry and jalapeño peppers.
In her ninth year of business, Debra is still the sole proprietor and creates all of the product recipes herself, enlisting friends and family to help with some of the preparation. An afternoon in the kitchen often includes friends from her networking group, BRING!, Networking while peeling onions or stocking boxes. “I have met so many wonderful people who have personally helped with my business,” shares Debra. “A fellow member was here just the other day for several hours labeling jars for me.”
Kilcup is grateful for help during the busy holiday season which accounts for 50 percent of her annual business. Ila’s Foods is on the road at food festivals and bazaars year-round but is especially busy with events every weekend in November and December. Ila’s products can be purchased at about 20 stores throughout the Pacific Northwest including locally at Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftway stores as well as Bay Mercantile, located on Mud Bay Road in Olympia and The Sweetest Things in Lacey. Debra enjoys helping her customers create specialty baskets for unique gift giving along with offering her products online at her website www.ilasfoods.com.
Ila’s Foods was honored this year with a King 5 Best of Western Washington award in the category of Gourmet Grocery. This holiday, give the gift of local deliciousness with a jar of Ila’s award-winning Bleu Cheese Dressing or another favorite, the Raspberries and White Chocolate Spread and find out why her foods have people raving throughout the northwest. Ila’s uses local and organic ingredients whenever possible and has relationships with many local farms and vendors. Many of her products, such as Lavender Raspberry, are collaborations with regional partners.
More than ever, I hear people saying that this holiday, they don’t want any more “stuff” in their life. A jar of gourmet jam, however, is the perfect gift on it’s own or with a bottle of local wine and crackers or bread to create a lovely basket. Ila’s Foods makes it easy to feel good about gift giving, too, as Debra donates a portion of her profits to charitable causes.
Debra created a decadent chocolate peanut butter spread that she calls Burgess Butter. The sweet spread is named for her brother Rick Burgess who was diagnosed with ALS. “My love language is food and knowing that peanut butter and chocolate is his favorite combination, I created Burgess Butter just for him,” she shares. Debra donates the proceeds from Burgess Butter to Rick and the ALS Foundation to help find a cure.
If you want your gift to spread local cheer, purchase a few jars of Blazer Spirit Jelly, named for the Timberline Blazers with its flavors of apple and lime representing the school colors of green and yellow. Debra created the jelly when she learned that the Unified Special Olympics program at Timberline High School lacked the funds to purchase basic equipment like balls and uniforms. With the help of Ila’s Foods and the proceeds from Blazer Jelly, Timberline has been able to provide these supplies and more to this worthwhile program.
Debra is happy to help you create a combination of her jams and spreads, too, offering singles, three-packs and more. I can’t think of a better gift for my family and friends—if there is any left by the time the holiday rolls around.
Learn more about Ila’s Foods online, call 360-870-4109 or email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Ila’s Foods on Facebook for specials and to find out where you might find Debra (and Jaiden) selling their tasty treats throughout the year.