If you’re ever in need of a pep talk, something to get you motivated about taking on a new project or challenging task, stop by the Toffee on the Run website and meet Julie Pettijohn, the 10-year-old foundress of this Hermann-based company.
That’s right, she’s 10, and she makes and sells her own almond toffee online at www.toffeeontherun.com.
Julie blogs about her toffee almost daily and uploads videos, including one about a Toffee Tastes Club she started to get input on new flavors and another directed at Ellen Degeneres about wanting to appear on her show.
Julie is a firecracker of a young girl, her parents, Lee and Keely Pettijohn, agree. Seeing what she has already accomplished with her burgeoning business, they believe there isn’t anything she can’t do.
Started as a Way to Help Dad
The idea to start selling toffee came to Julie two years ago when she was thinking up a way to help her dad pay for a plane ticket to Senegal, where he was going to do some volunteer work for a friend who runs a mission there.
Julie was only 8 but when she told her mom she wanted to do something to raise money for her dad, Keely took her seriously.
“I have been living with this for a long time, and she’s always been amazing,” said Keely. “She really has. Not just from a mother’s standpoint, but she’s always been very outgoing, very determined, and so when she said she wanted to sell toffee . . .
“Well, first she said she wanted to color pictures and sell them to the neighbors for a quarter. I said, ‘That’s fine, but why not give them something they actually want? What else can you come up with?’ — I’m always prompting her as the home-school teacher — what do you think you could do?”
Julie quickly thought of her homemade toffee. She had been making it ever since her family visited some friends in Colorado and they tasted the toffee at a potluck meal.
The friends shared their recipe with Julie, but she thought theirs was too hard. So she tweaked the recipe, adding a little more of one ingredient, a little less of another, until she came up with a winner.
Keely agreed that selling toffee was a good plan. When Julie shared some at family holidays or special events, “that plate was licked clean.”
Originally Julie set her goal at $200, but she surpassed that easily.
“I got to $200 in like a week, so I was like, Huh!, I think I’m going to try to hit $500, and then I reached it, so I went for $1,000, and I worked and worked and worked, and in five weeks, I had $1,000,” said Julie.
It wasn’t always easy or fun work, though, said Keely, recalling how near the end Julie was ready to quit.
After a night of walking around Hermann selling toffee door-to-door in freezing cold weather, five weeks of hard work got to Julie and she broke down.
“She was in tears, said ‘I don’t want to sell any more toffee. I don’t want to knock on another single door,’ ” Julie’s mom recalled. “So I said, ‘OK, let’s just do this last one and go home,’ . . . we knock on the door, they didn’t answer, so we were walking across the parking lot, and there was this gentleman just walking home with some groceries, and I arbitrarily, sarcastically said, ‘You forgot to buy toffee at the store — Quick, come get some,’ and he bought some.
“She got in the car, was slumping in the back seat, and I said, ‘Julie, you just broke $1,000.’ Then it was waterworks everywhere. ‘I did! Oh my gosh!’ We went to the bank and she turned all these $1 bills into hundreds and she put them in a card for her dad. . . it was the pinnacle of all that hard work paying off, which was a great lesson.”
Julie, who had kept the purpose of her toffee sales a secret from her dad, was eager to see his reaction.
“I was blown away, I had no idea,” said Lee. “I knew she was making a lot of toffee, and I was driving her around one day, and I said, ‘Julie, let’s talk about all the money that you’re making . . .’ I kept asking her, ‘What are you going to do with the money?’ She was trying to be very polite and say, ‘I’m not really sure,’ and I’m trying to give her ideas what to do.”
Open for Business
After reaching her $1,000 goal to pay for her dad’s plane ticket, Julie was eager to keep going with her toffee sales, only now as a business.
After taking some time off, she got started.
Since Julie can’t drive and is only 10, she gets some help in running the business from her parents. Even her siblings, 7-year-old Elly and 3-year-old Wesley, lend a hand here and there (like when extra fingers are needed while tying ribbons on the packages).
Julie and her family make the toffee in a federally approved kitchen at Yellow Wood Farms in Hermann.
Making toffee isn’t complicated, said Julie, but it is time-consuming and can be tiring on your arm — from all the stirring! Ingredients are melted together on a stove at high heat for 30 minutes, which requires constant stirring to keep them from burning.
“If you stop stirring or go away for a minute, it will taste horrible,” said Julie. “You really have to keep stirring at the same pace.”
Two years ago Julie wasn’t allowed to do the stirring because of the high heat on the stove, but now that she’s 10, she can handle all aspects of the toffee making, save one — cutting the pieces with the large knife.
Toffee on the Run is sold in 4-ounce packages.
Since opening, Julie has added several flavors to her product line. Classic is the original almond toffee, but now her website also lists Divine Swine (bacon flavor), Happy and Heart Healthy, Applicious, White Chocolate Raspberry, Cinnamon and Coffee and Excite-Mint.
A new flavor, the most popular one picked by last week’s Toffee Tasters Club, will be announced soon.
People who think they don’t like toffee may be surprised what they find when they take a nibble, said Lee. Many people may be getting mixed up with taffy, which sticks to your teeth. Toffee is not chewy.
“Most people who say they don’t like toffee end up buying two or three bags,” said Julie.
Toffee on the Run can be ordered online. People living in Hermann get a price break and the option of having their toffee hand-delivered.
Out-of-town orders have to be shipped.
“Then we have people who are so close that they call and ask if they can come pick it up from us here,” said Julie, who answers all of email that come through the website. “People sometimes just call or email us to see what’s available.”
Julie said that kind of face-to-face contact with her customers makes her happy.
“I want people not to come to a store to buy it, but I want to run it out there to them, because then I get to see more people,” she said.
“It’s fun,” said Julie. “My favorite part is going to shows and having interviews . . . talking to people, because that’s how they get to know me better and get to see the business.”
Julie is homeschooled, and that means that the Pettijohns have been able to incorporate all of the lessons involved in making and selling toffee into her lessons, and not just things like math and home economics, but marketing and how to make a business plan.
“It would break her heart when we would go to Wal-Mart and spend $100 on supplies, and she had to pay for all of that out of her profit,” said Keely. “She would see these (sales) numbers and then we’d go shopping, and she would be like, ‘Wow, darn!’ ”
“When I first started the business, and I hadn’t had any money saved up, I spent this much money on pans . . . I was like, ‘Is it really worth it to spend this much money?’
“Now that I’m looking back, I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s totally worth it.’ ”
Julie hasn’t broken down her hourly profit from Toffee on the Run, but she knows it isn’t a lot. And she isn’t saving as much money as she did in the beginning when the work was purely for fund-raising.
“Of course we don’t let her keep all of the money,” said Keely. “She gives 10 percent as tithe to the church, 10 percent is saved for taxes, 10 percent goes back into the business to build it stronger . . . she gets to keep 10 percent for herself to spend, we give her 10 percent to spend on others, and the rest goes to materials.”
The work can be overwhelming, especially for a 10-year-old girl, and Julie sometimes needs a break.
“She gets tired now, especially after Christmas, when she’s made and sold 400 pieces to local business owners who buy it for their employees, and she’s fried,” said Keely. “So she will take January off and get back for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s like anything that’s a real-life experience. We have moments of excitement about it, we have moments of burnout about it.”
For now, Julie is happy to keep going, pushing forward to see how far her company can go.
Her dream is to make enough that she can afford to buy a high-tech cooler known as The Coolest. More than just a cooler, The Coolest has a mixer/blender, a wireless iPhone charger, a USB port, a divider, Bluetooth, bottle opener and more.
Julie wants it to store her product when she goes to shows like the Beer, Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival in Springfield, where she won a first-place award, or Baconfest in Washington, where she won a first-place award and a People’s Choice award.
Ultimately Julie’s dreams for her business are much bigger.
“I want to be as big as Enstroms, a worldwide, nationwide toffee business in Colorado,” she said.
“I also want to hopefully one day be Oprah’s favorite toffee, because she nominated Toffee to Go last year, but I’d like it to be Toffee on the Run.
“I was thinking maybe we could get it big enough that I can either get someone to manage it or take it over, so that may be my hobby or my full-time job,” said Julie.
Outside of business, Julie said her other favorite pastime is choreographing dances. She would love to someday be choreographing for movies or dance videos.
Her parents say with Julie there are too many possibilities to guess what she will be doing as an adult.
“She’s very good academically,” said Lee. “She will wake up at 6 a.m. sometimes and start on her homework because she wants to get done.
“She’s very good athletically, soccer and basketball, running track . . . She’s got a lot going for her,” said Lee.
“I really think she can do whatever she wants to,” added Keely. “She’s working hard at building the skills that she’ll need for anything.”
They encourage her to keep going with the business as long as she still enjoys it.
“As long as the toffee still smells good when you’re making it, we will keep going,” said Keely. “If it gets to the point where you’re repulsed by it, we will re-evaluate.”
Of course, with two other children watching their big sister’s lead, the Pettijohns may have a couple more family businesses on their hands before too long.
“Once I started Toffee on the Run, Elly said she wanted to make a business making ice cream, call it Screaming Ice Cream,” said Julie. “And Wesley found a ninja costume that he wanted, but it was very expensive, and Mom said, ‘No,’ so he said, ‘What can I do to make money?’
“It’s fun watching them come up with ideas,” she said.