1. Herbs, Spices, and Herbal Teas
Any chef will tell you that cooking with herbs and spices can catapult a dish into a new dimension—but only if those ingredients are fresh. Since 2011, Cathy’s Herbs and Botanicals has been supplying both professional kitchens and home cooks with the essentials for that secret flavor boost.
“The business grew naturally,” says owner Cathy Via, a former environmental technician for the city of Naples. “I started at the Third Street South farmers market on Saturday mornings, and customers kept asking me for things. I wanted to provide the best and cleanest products I could find—organic, non-GMO, and pesticide-free.”
Today her small store carries 500 items and also showcases the work of local artists. Many of the herbs she sells are live, and most are packaged in small quantities for home use. Two restaurants work exclusively with her: the French bistro Chez Boët and Café Nutrients, her plant-based neighbor. On the culinary side, she specializes in salt-free spice mixes such as taco seasoning and Herbes de Provence.
“We try to feature locally produced items, but soil and climate conditions are key factors,” she says. “I grow turmeric, for example, but the best turmeric I can find comes from Fiji—it has a taste that I just can’t replicate. Local products are important, but quality is the crucial thing.”
Naples Honey Company
Beekeeping might seem like a strange business for Tom May, a cellist with the Naples Philharmonic, but it’s actually part of his heritage.
“My mom was a musician, and my dad and grandpa were both beekeepers,” May says. “I started at age 6 when my dad paid me a dime for each case of honey I bottled and labelled.”
As an adult, May received his first hive as an anniversary gift from his wife in 1999. He now has 85, and his hobby has morphed into the Naples Honey Company. He and his family sell their honey at three local farmers markets, and the product is carried by retailers including Wynn’s, Lucky’s, and Nature’s Garden.
His story is far from unique. Other hobbyists, such as Ron Bender at Naples Bees, have seen production grow exponentially; from an initial harvest of 10 pounds, Bender now reaps 600 pounds annually. He prides himself on producing a raw, chemical-free, hive-to-bottle product, and sells his excess online.
“A lot of imported honey is either contaminated by chemicals or watered down with corn syrup,” Bender says. “The real distinction is between raw and processed honey. Whenever you heat it to process it, you’re destroying all the elements that make it healthy.”
There’s a strong environmental component to honey, as well: At least half of the produce we consume is pollinated by bees, so they’re essential to the world’s food supply. Even so, Bender cautions against the dream of becoming rich from a backyard hive. “If you count the number of hours and the cost of equipment, it’s really a money-loser. It’s more a labor of love.”
After spending 25 years as a school administrator in New York City and Collier County, Reka Monoki is now working with children of all ages.
In August, Monoki and her husband opened Rocket Fizz, a branch of the California-based franchise familiar to viewers of Undercover Boss, in the new Sutton Place shops in North Naples. She carries 250 varieties of soda pop and 60 flavors of taffy in her store, along with toys, tin signs, and gag gifts.
“Rocket Fizz is a throwback to the old-fashioned candy shop,” she says. “We attract a lot of kids, but we also have customers from the 35-50 age group who missed this type of store entirely. Many of them have never seen things like Moon Pies, Razzles, Goo Goo Clusters, and candy cigarettes.”
Her most popular soda is the Frostie brand, specifically Frostie Blue Cream Soda. “The presentation is eye-catching, and the appeal has spread by word of mouth,” she notes. Sales of quirky drinks are also brisk, such as the Dictator Series (Fidel Castro’s Havana Banana or Kim Jong-Il’s Orange Nuclear Bomb). Some unusual flavors include pickle juice, mustard, bacon, and buffalo wings. Monoki specializes in sourcing hard-to-find sodas, too.“We carry anything we can get our hands on,” she says. “Most people who come in for the first time are surprised by the selection.”
4. Salsa, Hot Sauces, and Barbecue
Taste of Immokalee
Taste of Immokalee is a benefit corporation supported by the 1 By 1 Leadership Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit. Since 2014, the organization has taught the basics of entrepreneurship to 150 local high school students. Among those who complete the four-year program, 100 percent go on to college.
“Our goal is to get kids career-ready,” says executive director Marie Capita, “whether they end up starting their own business, working for a corporation, or going to medical school.”
The Taste of Immokalee products are sourced from the agricultural areas of Collier County and distributed by Lipman Produce to stores ranging from Publix and Wynn’s Market to Neighborhood Organics. The current best sellers are Mandarin tangerine barbecue sauce and mango-pineapple salsa. Profits are used to defer the cost of goods and program expenses, and TOI donates the rest to organizations such as the Immokalee Child Care Center and the Benison Center (created after Hurricane Irma to distribute supplies to families in need).
Despite the charitable aspects of the program, students are also schooled in the realities of business. “They have mentors, but they’re the ones running the company,” Capita says. “They have to supervise production, stand behind the product, and understand customer service. They learn to be responsible for the bottom line.”