Nolan Stilwell is the culinary artist and young entrepreneur behind Texas Sweet Heat Jam Co. The company was created to give Nolan, who has Down Syndrome, an opportunity to work in culinary. Their company has endless options for jam flavors that you can try from a retailer in your state or by shopping online! Enjoy the interview about Texas Sweet Heat Jam Co below: 

Tell us about Texas Sweet Heat Jam Co and how it got started.

“Sweet Heat was started 10 years ago when Nolan wanted to participate in the culinary program at his high school but was not able to due to there not being enough staff to have Nolan involved with the program.  We saw this as an opportunity to create a food product that Nolan loved to make and to build this business model to include other students who had the same desire to work in culinary.”

What were the goals of the business when it first got started and how have those changed as the business has grown?

“Our goal at the onset was to have Nolan work creating his jam and mastering all the aspects of creating, marketing, and selling his jams.  Once he had a good understanding of all the different aspects and expectations, we started to work with other young people, having Nolan as a peer mentor.

The purpose of our peer mentoring was to ingrain the skills with the individual giving the instruction, helping them with their communication skills as well as feeling confident in the work the are doing.  We created an internship program that teaches all the aspects of the business and gives the intern valuable skills in working in a commercial kitchen.”

Talk about the importance of hiring individuals with special needs and the roles that they play in your company. 

“We are proud to say that our entire team is filled with individuals with intellectual disabilities.  They are responsible for all the aspects of making the jams, inventory, labeling, cleaning all aspects of the kitchen.  They have assistance with bookkeeping, taxes, and transportation of distributing their products.  Our interns also come with a job coach to assist them in safety of the tasks.”

What is your favorite part about owning the business? What is the most challenging part?

“Nolan will always tell you that his favorite part of the business is being with his friends.  He will tell you that his business is his ministry and he loves making jams for people.  The most challenging would be in forecasting for the upcoming year, but he has been blown away by the new customers and growth each year.”

What do you wish other businesses and companies knew about hiring individuals with special needs?

“One of the aspects of our business is that we don’t want to be recognized for our disabilities but for the products we make.  We believe this motto serves for individuals that are working in corporate businesses as well.  What abilities, talents and strengths does this individual bring to the team.”

What has the community response been to your company?

“The response of the various communities we have served in has been a journey that has developed each of us into better individuals as a result.  When we first started 10 years ago, very few businesses were run by people with intellectual disabilities.  It was with that purpose that our business would help make a brighter future for others that were coming behind us.  In Nolan’s 10 years he has achieved some great miles stones such as being a finalist for the HEB Quest for Texas Best, being voted as a Top Business of the Year and this year earning a title from USA Today as the #1 Foodie Gift.”

What is your favorite jam that you make and sell?

“Every year Nolan comes up with a signature jam and one that he was very determined to create was Texas Apple Pie.  He will tell you to serve it on Blue Bell Ice Cream because it taste like warm apple pie but without the crust – so it is Keto friendly.”

How can people support Texas Sweet Heat Jam Company? 

“Nolan and his team love to make jams so purchasing jams allows them to continue living their dream.  Also if you own a store or know someone that would like to carry the jams, that would be fantastic too.  They currently have boutique stores and markets across the United States and are currently in 8 HEB stores.”

What is a message that you would like to leave with our community?

“Don’t be afraid to give something a try especially if it is something that God has put in your heart to do.”

Anything else that you would like to share?

“I want to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to share my story with the hope that it will bring encouragement and hope to someone who is looking at that next step in life.”