Mustards, fruit and pepper jams and syrups line Sandy Wiehe’s stall at City Market. She ran San Man Gardens for over 30 years, but it hasn’t always sold out its crowd-favorite canned food.
After quitting his job and recovering from major surgery, Wiehe needed a new project to focus on. She grew up on a farm, so the greenhouse her ex-husband built for her was the perfect next step. Soon after, she started selling herbs and flowers at the market in 1992.
When her winemaker friend gave her five gallon containers of wine, her creative juices started flowing.
“Back then, there was no internet. So I hopped over to the library and learned how to make wine vinegar,” Wiehe said on Saturday as she worked at her booth at the town market.”I started making wine vinegars with herbs – like basil, oregano flavored vinegars.”
Then a market farmer gave her a 40-pound box of bananas – so she made banana bread which sold out the next market day.
Wiehe grew up farming and watching her aunt refine her canning process. She hit her creative stride when she expanded into homemade jams and mustards. She started with fruit jams, but quickly incorporated hot peppers into her offerings.
“This guy came up to me, I wish I knew who he was, but he said it wasn’t warm enough,” Wiehe said. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to get you next week.’ So from then on, I put the heat on it. I ate ghost peppers and stuff like that, but it’s not so hot that you can’t enjoy it.
Its first hot jam was raspberry-jalepeño, but San-Man has since expanded to include 18 different peppery flavors. A customer favorite is the mango jalapeño jam, which Wiehe says she can’t get hot enough.
Although she sticks to jams and mustard (and the occasional peanut crunch), Wiehe continues to invent new flavors. On Friday night, just hours before coming to the market, she came up with a new recipe for ghost pepper mustard – and says it’s a popular choice today.
“People here, they like it hot. God they buy my ghost pepper, my Carolina Reaper and they act like it’s nothing,” Wiehe said.
Adaptability is key
Wiehe is used to changing its flavors, but supply chain issues and gas prices have also forced it to adapt its production process.
The jars that Wiehe normally uses are no longer available, so she is currently on the lookout for new ones. Her usual supplier no longer offers mangoes – the main ingredient in her best-selling jam – so she had to buy them online, inflated postage included.
“It’s just a mess. I have a business, I like to keep people happy, so I have to bear a lot of the costs,” Wiehe said.
She doesn’t live far from the market, so Wiehe was able to avoid sacrificing to buy gasoline. Even still, she says the current prices prompt her to determine how often she drives and the routes she takes.
To reduce costs and ensure the best flavors, Wiehe uses local ingredients whenever possible. Usually this means buying bulk goods from her friends at the market whenever she can.
Wiehe buys watermelon, jalepeños and other products that she uses in many of her products in the market for half the price she would find elsewhere.
Although things may be a little more tense than usual, but Wiehe says that hasn’t slowed things down. She first thought there would be fewer visitors when the market has ended free parking on weekendsbut Wiehe says it doesn’t seem to bother people because they keep coming.
The secret to selling at City Market
For Wiehe, selling products on the market is a collaborative effort. Sellers buy from each other and support each other.
“I think that if [people] come down here for a jar of jam, they will come up there and buy tomatoes or cucumbers,” Wiehe said. “And the same with the fruit and vegetable sellers – I will catch them too. So we all work together.
According to Wiehe, the secret to a successful selling day at the market is lots of smiles. Once a customer arrives at the booth, they probably walk away with something.
“Act like you’re best friends with him. You know, call them,” Wiehe said. “You become friends with them.”
If smiles and friendly conversations don’t work, the San-Man stand has another trick up its sleeve: samples.
Every week, Wiehe gives away samples of a black bean dip made with her mango jalepeño jam, and she gives away the recipe for free. His grandson, Bennett Hampton, and his friend, Buddy, help Wiehe sell his wares and attract potential customers with jam and mustard-themed songs they make up.
Over the decades, Wiehe has made many friends in the market, both from other sellers and from loyal customers.
She plans to sell at the market until she is ready to retire or until she stops having fun. When that day comes, she hopes her daughter will be ready to take over the family business.
“It’s like a storybook,” Wiehe said. “If it hadn’t been for my friends who sold here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into this. But I’m glad I did.