Sweet relief

Cuisine People

January 2, 2020

A cancer diagnosis leads to a burgeoning side hustle for Sweet’s Syrup owner Stephanie Rickenbaker. 

by Vanessa Infanzon

Nine years ago, Sweet’s Syrup owner Stephanie Rickenbaker didn’t know anything about clean living, or how to run a small business. A cancer diagnosis changed everything.

Two weeks after Stephanie married Ed Rickenbaker in 2011, he was diagnosed with leukemia. A local health coach recommended the couple take a closer look at the connection between diet and disease. 

  “That was my big eye-opener to the foods we ate and the products we bought,” Stephanie says. “I became a label reader. I became aware of the toxins we were exposed to.” Stephanie adjusted the couple’s lifestyle: She switched from purchasing conventional products to natural, nontoxic options. She started making elderberry syrup — a mixture combining raw honey, elderberries and spices.
     Various studies have shown the berries can boost the immune system, treat inflammation and optimize digestion, though the products are not FDA-approved.
     Ed and Stephanie began taking a tablespoon daily. Their daughter Olivia’s nickname, Sweet, became the inspiration for the name of Stephanie’s company, which has sold more than 60,000 bottles since 2016. Ed’s leukemia has been undetectable for more than five years. 

Comments were edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you start Sweet’s Syrup?

I joined a mom’s Facebook group. Moms started selling things they made, and I’m a stay-at-home mom with a business background. I have an MBA and a sales and marketing background. I always wanted a little side hustle. I thought, “I’ll see if anyone wants a bottle of this elderberry syrup.” I sold 150 bottles. That turned into this crazy business. 

What ingredients do you use in Sweet’s Syrup?

It’s important to me to know where everything comes from. We use organic elderberries sourced from Austria; organic ginger sourced from Windcrest Farm in Monroe; Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka; cloves; and [Charlotte-based] Herb’s Honey.

What’s the best way to consume Sweet’s Syrup?

It’s really good on plain, unsweetened yogurt. It’s a sweetener and gives it a great flavor. [You can] add it to a smoothie. We make lemonade elderberry popsicles for our kids. But we take it straight up: one tablespoon for adults and one teaspoon for children [over 1 year] every day.

How do you keep up with the orders?

I have an incredible team working with me doing operations, marketing and deliveries. I have two chefs that make it for me in their commercial kitchen. I have two people who do all the shipping and fulfillment. For a while, I was doing it all by myself. Within the first three months, I had to hire someone to make it for me because I couldn’t keep up. 

What challenges have you faced with the business growing so quickly?

Every year there is a big elderberry shortage. There’s always this hustle to find elderberries. Starting last year, I bought a huge amount so I wouldn’t run out. They’re dried when we get them from Austria. All this is new to me — figuring out what works, what doesn’t work. As a business owner, there’s always something to do. Turning it off is hard for me. I’m trying to be better about devoting specific time to my work and then shutting it off. SP

Sweet’s Syrup is available in more than 100 retailers in the Carolinas, including Berrybrook Farms, Common Market and Thrive Carolina in Charlotte, or online at sweetssyrup.com.


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