For the past three years, 91-year-old Earl Fultz of Greenport has worked to make a name for his wife, Gloria’s, cooking secret — cHarissa, a Moroccan-influenced seasoning made with cumin and other spices.
After finding success in local markets, Mr. Fultz now hopes to sell the product in stores nationwide. And thanks to a $25,000 grant and market guidance courtesy of Wells Fargo, he’s that much closer to realizing his goal.
Wells Fargo announced Monday that Mr. Fultz is one of five people to win its national Wells Fargo Works Project Contest, which offers small business owners cash and expert advice to help their operations grow. In addition, the bank will donate $5,000 to a nonprofit of each winner’s choice.
Mr. Fultz was chosen from a pool of more than 3,600 contestants, according to Wells Fargo officials.
“When you read his story, it is really just amazing,” said Jim Malcolm, a small business strategy director for the bank’s Northeast division. “Someone at 90 years of age, starting a business and getting it up and running, is not only amazing, but to me what makes it stand out is the passion around the product. It was developed out of love by his wife, for the family, for the kids, to really make their meals even more special.”
But what’s moved Mr. Fultz to work harder on his pitch is the fact that his beloved wife died last October.
“It was my wife, Gloria, who encouraged me and influenced the decision to start a business,” Mr. Fultz explains on his website. “Realizing she would predecease me due to declining health … she hoped that cHarissa might help fill the void left by her passing. Gloria was right: cHarissa helped fill the void. But only partially.”
Mr. Fultz said he’ll donate the $5,000 from Wells Fargo to East End Hospice in his wife’s name. Employees there took care of Gloria in her final days, he said.
And he hopes to get cHarissa on the shelves at national chains soon.
“It is a game changer, it really is,” Mr. Fultz said of winning the contest. “If Whole Foods stores buy it, we will be catapulted into mass production, and we are ready for that now. We have been trying to figure out how to move from the artisanal market into mass production. I think this will help us jump that hurdle.”
Mr. Malcolm said he sees great potential for the product, as market research Wells Fargo has conducted on the spice and condiment industry reveals people are hungry for change.
“People’s tastes are beginning to change,” he said. “They are looking for a new flavor and people are getting a bit bolder with what they are trying. Over the last five years, this industry has seen significant growth, about 7.5 percent a year specific to what [Mr. Fultz] is marketing and selling.”
Mr. Fultz, who lives at Peconic Landing, said he looks forward to meeting with business experts to get the spices cooking.