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Originally from Guyana, South America, Deomattie “Reshma” Tannassee, owner and founder of Carina's, grew up in the countryside watching her grandmother make spices and prepare Caribbean influenced dishes. The ingredients, similar to what Tannassee uses today in her sauces, were fresh and grown by local farmers. When Tannassee decided to move to the United States in December of 1999, she had a dream, but as Tannassee explained, that dream wasn't necessarily to follow in her grandma's footsteps.
"I came here with a dream to be a designer," she said. "That's what I went to school for. It was my teacher that told me to think about being a chef. She said it was in my blood. I took to heart what she said and my first job in New York was as a private cook. I cooked for a very wealthy person who told me I had something no one else she met had: a true love of cooking. She gave me a lot of confidence and encouraged me to follow my passion for cooking."
In December of 2009, Tannassee moved to Collier County to be closer to her husband. This is also around the time when she got serious about making spice packages, her first entrepreneurial venture. From years of watching her grandmother, Tannassee had recipes and ideas for various Caribbean inspired combinations. She operated under Home Cottage Law, which allow for small home-based food production, for some time as she mostly sold her spices to mom and pop stores, delis and small convenience stores. She personally drove and delivered her spices all over Southwest Florida. Tannassee explained how, in 2012, an abundance of one ingredient is what led her to shift her focus from spices to sauces. "I was growing peppers for my spices and one day, I had a lot left over," she said. "I didn't want to waste them so I thought about what I could do with the excess peppers. That's when I remembered one of my grandma's sauce recipes. I took her recipe and used as many local fruits and vegetables as I could find. I tweaked it some to give it more flavor. When people tried it, they loved it."
In late 2016, after several years of perfecting her recipe, selling her sauces at farmer's markets and operating under Home Cottage Law, Tannassee registered her business, named after her daughter Carina, and was prepared to take it to the next level. What followed was a myriad of documents, permits and paperwork to take her business from a home-based operation to a commercial kitchen at the Florida Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee.
"I never knew how hard it was to make hot sauce," she laughed. "At times I thought, 'what am I doing'? It was a long process, but I did it. Now we're set to fulfill a $10,000 purchase order with a national distribution center. It looks like we'll double that next month. We're also open for other companies white labeling our product. We're communicating with several about that right now."
Looking ahead, Tannassee is focused on expanding her distribution channels and introducing new products. She's in talks with Publix and has reached out to Whole Foods. She's adding pepper jelly, jalapeno jelly, pico de gallo and guacamole. She's also working on maintaining her all natural status while still being able to effectively preserve her products. To that end, she's looking into a vacuum machine that would extend shelf life. Tannassee is also committed to buying from local farmers and knowing exactly where her fruits and vegetables come from.
What advice does Tannassee have for others interested in bringing a food product to market? "It will be challenging, but don't ever give up hope," she said. "At one point at the inspection table, where inspectors test sauces for certain PH levels, I was in tears and I looked at my husband and said, 'can I quit'? He said, 'Not now, you only have a little more to go.' Don't take your gloves off until you've made it. I never expected to have eight employees, but here I am. I also never expected to have 300 cases going out, but that's now a reality. If you have a dream, visualize it and go for it."