Fire Mountain Kitchen thrives at The Narrowsburg Union
NARROWSBURG, NY — Since July, The Narrowsburg Union, located at 7 Erie Ave., has housed a new resident: Fire Mountain Kitchen, a food production facility specializing in jarred goods and preserves. The kitchen is owned and operated by Dr. James Lomax, a retired physician and frequent contributor to The River Reporter’s Health section.
“I’m now finishing my third year,” says Lomax. “I decided I wanted to do something that I enjoy, and one… was in food preservation. And for years, from our garden, a fairly good-sized garden, I would can all kinds of things—zucchini, relish, pickles, all kinds of things, and then create gift baskets, and people seemed to like the products well. A lot of them were old family recipes from my maternal great-grandmother. [They] go back to 1910, so a lot of these things that you see on the shelf are not new—they’ve been around for many decades.
“Then I started to explore—how do you do this in New York State? New York is like all states, [it has] lots of rules, regulations and things like that. It took a good six months to get through the licensing. You had to find a commercial kitchen to work out of, because the products I make, I cannot make at home. And you have to get all of your recipes blessed by the food science people at Cornell. They have to look at it, and then they give you feedback on how to process it so that you can put it in a jar, and it’ll be shelf-stable.
“I’ve been involved with lots of street fairs, farmer’s markets... You have to sample this product, the food, to sell it. This year, I’ve had a lot of return business. People actually seek out some of my products. The big push is to get them to try the first bottle... I make five products now. My best seller is a red onion sweet sauce… a meat glaze [that] has a little heat in it, in the sense that it has red pepper flake, and some other spices… [Another] is my bread-and-butter pickles, which is my great-grandmother’s recipe… So people have been making bread-and-butter pickles for years now, and ever since they figured out how to seal up a bottle so that it’s airtight, and how to process it so it doesn’t grow mold—that’s been about a hundred years now.”
Lomax utilizes his lengthy experience as a physician to choose his materials and ingredients. “I’m a firm believer in eating local… so all the vegetable products that go into [my products] are as local as I can find them. I like things fresh... I’m a little bit of a foodie, but I enjoy making these things, [and] I enjoy the interaction of when I’m going out and selling it at a market—just the interaction with people. It’s not that profitable in its current stage, but it’s been a good year, so I’m sure I’ll make a teeny tiny profit. But that’s pretty good just being in business for three years.”
The move to Narrowsburg has provided a convenient look back at how his business has evolved. “The move here—I need[ed] a little more space, and a little more time. I was at Cornell Cooperative Extension—they have a commercial kitchen there. That’s an excellent place for someone just starting out in this business. They have a lot of equipment that, when you first start your business, you think, ‘Oh, I know what I want, and what I need.’ Well, you quickly find out you don’t have half of what you need or want, and the stuff you’ve bought is totally worthless.
“The state doesn’t care if you chop it, grind it, mince it or whatever—they don’t get into that level of detail, but you have to experiment, because what sells a product is the appearance of the bottle. That’s 50% of what attracts you. When that person comes up to the shelf and pulls it out, and takes a look at whatever you’re trying to sell. So what goes into it is, the product has to look nice inside the jar… I spent a lot of time researching jars of different shapes and sizes, and it’s amazing what you can buy on the internet... probably the biggest thing is the label. The label probably sells your product better than anything else, so I had a commercial designer design the label.”
But Lomax is getting used to the expected challenges of a new business: “It’s like medicine. They say ‘the practice of medicine.’ After doing it for 30-odd years, you’ve probably got it down; you’re probably not ‘practicing’ in the sense of experimenting. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it. I think for me, better use of social media is probably what my next step next year [will be]… You have to have a brand recognition to sell products.”
The Narrowsburg Union’s New York State-certified commercial kitchen facility is open to other members of the community who want to start their own food or beverage business. Visit www.nar rowsburgunion.com/foodandbeverage. Fire Mountain Kitchen products can be found at such locations as Narrowsburg Proper, Bethel Market Café and the Callicoon Wine Merchant. For more information or to shop online, visit https://www.firemountainkitchen.us/.