It takes a lot of work to be Awesome.

Christine Hayden answered our six questions for the CEO.

1. How’d the company get its start 13 years ago?

We would give things away that we made and people would say, “You should sell this stuff.” So we thought about it and investigated what it would take to start a business. We contacted the Maine Department of Agriculture and the city of Auburn and found out we needed to get a license from each of them. We also had to contact the state of Maine Revenue Services to get a resale certificate. This entailed a lot more than we expected. Because we are a home-based business our kitchen needed to be inspected and many guidelines needed to be followed.

Each and every product we make has to be submitted to the Department of Agriculture for a process review. Each time a product is made, we have to test for acidity and record the results for each batch. Our kitchen is inspected periodically to make sure we meet the necessary requirements. This is only part of what we do. When you own your own business, it is always with you. Some weeks we may put in 50 to 60 hours, other weeks we can take off, if the work is done. The only real time we are actually not doing something in a week for the business is if we go away on vacation.

So here we are, 13 years later, still trying to figure it all out and perfect it. Just when we think we have things where they should be, something changes.

2. Is there a Bert?

Yes, there were actually two Berts. My dad’s name was Burton and he was called Bert. My husband’s grandfather was also a Bert, hence Berts’ Awesome Stuff. (Both Berts are on the company’s label.)

3. Advice on making a home-based business work?

This has actually evolved over the years. My husband does most of the cooking. I help with prep work, labeling and filling orders, do the marketing and take care of the bookkeeping. We both do the craft fairs, which are mostly in the fall. There are many aspects to running a business and when people tell us we are lucky we have our own business, I tell them it isn’t luck — it’s hard work.

4. What is a policy or issue you’re following this summer at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on your business?

GMO labeling has been an issue we are following because of the corn relish we make. Most corn and soy products are genetically modified. We need to determine if the corn we use is genetically modified. If it is, we need to label the product as so. While we would prefer to not use genetically modified products, we need to look more into the feasibility of continuing to produce this product by finding another source of corn that is not genetically modified.

5. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

When we first started the business we thought, “We want to be the next Stonewall Kitchen.” It didn’t take too long for us to realize we could not do that, nor did we want to.

However, if we received a million dollar grant, we would move the business out of our house, into its own building, put in equipment needed to expand, hire someone to manage the business and teach them the business. We would hire marketing people so we could have our product out nationwide in all the gourmet food shops.

6. How is something like Blueberry Jalapeno Spread born?

Lots of trial and errors, and creative ideas. Most of our recipes are old family recipes, but many of the products (like blueberry jalapeno) are creative ideas by my husband. He is always wanting to experiment and I tell him we have no more room for more products. We both sample our own products. However, many are recipes we both liked and ate as youngsters.

We do also field sample our products. Any new product is tried out on friends, family and anyone who buys our products on a regular basis. We both have many favorites. Mine is mustard pickles — I grew up eating them on Saturday nights with baked beans. I love them with pasta, mac and cheese and mixed in cottage cheese.

My husband loves the corn relish — he grew up eating that on Saturday nights with baked beans. He likes it as a side dish, on hot dogs and he likes to mix it with sour cream and eat it as a dip. I sometimes mix the corn relish with black beans and send it to school with him for his lunch. We both love the chutneys. What we are serving will determine which one we use: apple raisin with pork tenderloin, cranberry with turkey or chicken, mango with fish or eat it right out of the jar. I like the raspberry blackberry jam the best and my husband would say, “whichever one is open.”

Six Questions for the CEO is a monthly feature on the faces and names that keep business interesting. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected]

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