Growing up surrounded by women who did a lot of cooking and baking, including her mother, grandmother and an aunt, Char Barrie was inspired to pursue her own career path in cooking. It started from a request by one of her daughters, who was looking for gifts to give during the holidays, and quickly grew from there as she began selling jams at craft fairs, including the one run by the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As Char’s Kitchen was first beginning, while Ms. Barrie was still packaging her jams and jellies in baby food jars, her daughter helped her to create special labels and decorations for all of her products, so she no longer had to write out all the labels by hand and they looked more professional.
In 1995, Ms. Barrie left her job as an office manager at the Viking Rubber Company to make Char’s Kitchen her fulltime job and it rapidly expanded past her wildest expectations. Today, she offers homemade jams, jellies, syrups, salsas and pickles in a variety of flavors. Her husband, Rolland, works alongside her managing the garden and any farm work required, as well as helping her in the kitchen and attending craft fairs with her. He also provided a lot of assistance early on while Ms. Barrie was learning about the canning process. In addition, they have two part-time employees that help out when the demand becomes too much for Ms. Barrie and her husband to manage on their own.
While Ms. Barrie continues to attend craft fairs, her products can now also be found in approximately 30 grocery stores and gift shops in the region, including the gift shop at the Crazy Horse Memorial. In order to produce her jam for stores, she has a kitchen on her farm that is licensed to produce jam for commercial sale. Furthermore, she maintains an online store where all her products, including gift baskets, are available year-round. Considering her greatest personal achievement to be the fact that she has maintained her business for more than 25 years, Ms. Barrie attributes much of her success to being a hard worker, her willingness to put in the hours for what is needed and her focus on maintaining the quality of her products.
Ms. Barrie notes that, depending on the season, the entire process from harvesting to canning, packing and distributing can take anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week, more if they have craft fairs to attend. She keeps up with production by making jam in large batches, so when they start on a particular batch of jam, they will work on it every day for a week unless there are other things that need to be taken care of. Sometimes they wind up working until eight or 10 at night because they can’t leave the ripe fruits and vegetables sitting in the garden. Looking toward the future, Ms. Barrie is planning for retirement and intends to start slowing down production, starting first with no longer attending craft fairs.
Having accomplished much over the course of the years, Ms. Barrie considers the highlight of her career to be the very first time she placed an order for proper jam jars. She had been approached at a craft fair by a fellow seller who saw her jam in baby food jars and offered to split a bulk order of the jars he used for his own products. At the time, 250 jars to fill with jam felt like an absolutely enormous amount, and she was prepared to have a lot left over, but the jam sold incredibly well and today Ms. Barrie goes through roughly 10,000 jam jars a year.
Ms. Barrie is always willing to tackle new flavors if there are customer requests for it. The most recent addition to her jam flavors was cranberry and she now has Christmas jams made with cranberries, oranges, blueberries and raspberries. The newest additions to her shop as a whole are the pickles, of which she has four flavors, kosher dill, watermelon pickles, bread and butter, and dilly beans, along with pickled beets as well. Out of all her products, Ms. Barrie notes that her number one best selling item is her chokecherry jam, a small round fruit native to the North and South Dakota area, which happens to be her favorite as well.
In addition to her work with Char’s Kitchen, Ms. Barrie has held membership with the National Association of Professional Women since 2009 and also serves on the board of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary National Organization. She previously donated her time as the president of the Conde American Legion. Married to her husband for over 35 years, they are together the proud parents of six daughters and grandparents to 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, all of whom have spent time helping out on their farm at various times. In her free time, Ms. Barrie enjoys indulging in her hobby of fishing.