For those of you who gave it the good old college try, it was indeed the Pittsburgh Public Market I was visiting for the last "Where in the 'Burgh" post. I went there with a mission, to try some of the goods from the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory that I had been hearing rave reviews about. Since I am known to have a tremendous sweet tooth, and fancy myself to be a foodie, I was excited to try some treats that were born and raised here in the 'Burgh.
I wasn't disappointed.
I never thought I would call a marshmallow "creamy", but these were probably as decadent as you can get for this particular treat. My family was visiting from Erie for the weekend, and I served them up atop of some rich hot chocolate. My choice was the peanut butter marshmallow, and as co-owner Deb told me when I was picking out my flavours of choice, "It will be like drinking a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup". Um, SOLD!
My mom chose the Carmel Cafe, and little sis the Chocolate. The marshmallow is so light, that it actually instantly melted on top of the liquid chocolate, creating a frothy layer of sheer, sugary heaven. I wanted to take a picture for the post of my classy cup of chocolate, however I greedily drank it all up, and then proceeded to eat the remainder of the treats straight up. It was a good weekend.
I emailed Chris, the other owner of the Marshmallow Factory, to get some background on the business, and to see where they are going for the future. Here's what he had to say!:
1. What was the genesis of the idea for starting a Marshmallow business here in Pittsburgh?
I’ve always made marshmallows at home for fun and to take to pot lucks and things like that. People that tried them were always impressed and wanted more or to even buy some. Debbie saw the opportunity there and decided to grab it with both hands. She’s really the driving force behind everything the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory does.
We’d looked at a few other places to sell marshmallows, but they all had more minuses than plusses and we were spinning our wheels not going anywhere. That’s when Debbie had the great idea about the Pittsburgh Public Market.
She showed it to me and we talked it over and thought it would be a good opportunity to try to finally do something with this great recipe. The Public Market was just the perfect place at the perfect time. Cost to entry was low; it had a built in audience of foodies and strip goers, and most importantly, other vendors to learn from. We talked it over and decided to jump in and open a booth there.
The way I like to think about the Public Market is that it is an “incubator” for new bootstrap food shops like ours. We knew that we can’t have a whole store of nothing but marshmallows, but combined with other vendors like Tupelo Honey Teas, Blighty English foods, Berry Patch jams, Crested Duck Charcuterie, East End Brewing; it would be a perfect store. It really is the best of Pittsburgh under one roof. With out the Public Market, and the opportunity it presented, there never would have been a Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.
2. How do you come up with ideas for your flavors?
We try and have a new flavor every week just to keep things fresh, but the genesis of those flavors usually comes from two sources: Customers and Dares.
Our customers are really the best source of inspiration. Take caramel coffee for example, it wasn’t one of our original marshmallows, but customers kept asking “do you have a coffee flavored one?” or “you know what would be good? Coffee!” so after the 30th or so person said that, we got the hint and went down to the marshmallow lab and made one. It’s still one of best sellers today.
Another of our new “flavors” is vegan, though technically it’s a type rather than a flavor. People have been asking for a vegan marshmallow since literally day one. It’s taken us about five months to develop a good vegan marshmallow but we really didn’t want to let the so many people asking if we could make one down. So we’re happy to say, we now have Vegan marshmallows!
The other big source is more or less “dares.” Take the Big Hop marshmallow. Scott from East End Brewing would stop by just about ever week and harass us about making a beer marshmallow. Eventually, we took him up on it, went to the growler shop and got some big hop and the rest is history!
Same with Tequila and Whiskey flavored marshmallows. We were doing a charity event for Pittsburgh Pride! And they wanted something really different for their event. So I thought, “What’s the last flavor anyone would ever expect in a marshmallow? Tequila!”
3. What has been the response to the product so far here in Pittsburgh?
The response here in Pittsburgh as been simply amazing on both a business and a professional level. People buy A LOT of marshmallows! It’s been a fantastic. The best part of the reaction for me, is that one trait that all Pittsburghers have is that we are all Pittsburgh evangelists. People here in town that try our marshmallows and like them tell EVERYONE. They tell their uncle Pete in Ohio who orders some, or blog about it and a lady in Oregon reads it and gets some. The people of Pittsburgh are the greatest marketing tool ever created.
4. How can we find your product and when are you at the Public Market?
You can get delicious, fresh Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory marshmallows every Friday (10-4), Saturday (9-5), and Sunday (10-3) at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District.
And, of course, online anytime at www.pittsburghmarshmallowfactory.com
5. What does the future hold for the business?
Vegan marshmallows are our next big thing in the market. There has been such a demand for them we’re really excited to get them out to the public!
Also, we’ll be launching a new website and marketing campaign shortly. We’re working with a great local firm, Insight Design Studio (http://insightdesignstudio.com/), to make it really reflective of our product and our personalities and most importantly, make it easier to order on line!
We’d like to get some marshmallows in some other local restaurants, coffee houses, and candy shops too, so if you run of those, give us a call!
6. Why Pittsburgh? Why do you choose to stay and run a business here and do you think you would have been as successful in another city?
Both Debbie and I have lived literally all over the world and to me; there is simply no place like Pittsburgh. The people support local business like no where else I’ve ever been. It’s a point of pride for the city to see local businesses grow and I think the city takes the failure of a local business as a personal insult
Could we have been the Detroit Marshmallow Plant, or the Houston Marshmallow Refinery? Maybe. But we didn’t want to be. We wanted to be here, in Pittsburgh, the best city I know.