Roylene Brown is an Amador County native and the owner of Martha’s All-Natural Baking Mixes in Martell, which produces mixes for cakes, cookies, pancakes, and other baked goods. She recently expanded her food business in July when she purchased The Caterer’s Kitchen, which is located in Jackson Creek Plaza in Jackson.
Brown has worked in the restaurant business in some shape or form for almost 30 years; she started her first job working at Burger King when she was 13 years old. She also worked for the St. George Hotel in the late 1990s before she moved to the Bay Area.
She was introduced to Martha’s when she worked at Alana’s Café in Burlingame…and was introduced to her future husband, Michael. He started Martha’s with his parents, Margaret and Ted, in 1988. Martha’s, named for Margaret, created popular baking mixes to supply restaurants in the Bay Area, including their own. “They served these awesome pancakes and they kept telling me I needed to meet the pancake guy,” Brown said. “He came in one day to train me on a new espresso machine.”
Brown joined Martha’s at their Redwood City headquarters after her wedding. In 1997, Brown and her husband took over the operations of Martha’s after they lost their biggest customer.
“Michael and his parents had a huge order for Price Club,” she said. Costco merged with Price Club in 1993 but kept the two stores separate for a few years. Once Costco fully absorbed Price Club in 1997, orders to Martha’s stopped. “We kept all the packaging and labels just in case, but we never did get another order,” Brown added.
Up to Amador County
As a result, Martha’s went dormant for a few years, and Roylene and Michael decided they wanted to control the company when it resumed business. “Michael and I worked hard to buy out any family or friend that had an interest in the company,” she said, “and then we moved it to Jackson in 2001.”
Brown’s in-laws moved to Amador County soon after, and in 2003, the quartet of Roylene, Michael, Martha, and Ted established their own restaurant in Sutter Creek: Martha’s Café and Spice Company, at 13 Ridge Road. The restaurant served all-natural breakfast and lunch. What’s more, Brown said, their lunches featuring barbecue meats from Swingle Meat Company were very popular: “We did so many tri-tips!”
Brown and her family also restarted Martha’s baking mix business, and it soon became popular with another large client: the United States military. As the contract took up more time and effort, Brown and her family sold the restaurant in 2007. She trained to become a military food logistician who worked with Martha’s and several large food companies including Clif Bar, PepsiCo, and Ore-Ida.
The Next Chapter
Brown’s world was turned upside down in 2013 when Michael died. “I was kind of left not knowing what to do,” she said. “We had a plan for this, but nothing went as planned. Everything came to a halt.” Brown took some time off, but she still had plans to revive the business. In 2016, she relaunched Martha’s All-Natural Baking Mixes with help from the Gomez family, the owners of El Torero Mexican Dining.
Brown started the business at a small shop in Jackson and purchased her own equipment, but she soon realized that she had to work another job to pay the bills. In 2017 and 2018, Brown worked as the innkeeper at the Volcano Union Inn and reunited with the Berkner family, who ran the St. George Hotel in the 1990s. “I’ve actually worked for the Berkner family at age 24 and 44,” she laughed.
She soon made enough income from Martha’s not only to leave the Volcano Union Inn but to expand into a state-certified food facility in Martell Plaza. Brown and her two employees manufacture Martha’s original baking mixes onsite with two 150-pound blenders so she can produce 50 and 100-pound batches.
Brown has expanded her business by working with Stacy Rhoades, the owner of the Hallapeño Hot Sauce Company in Ione, to produce chocolate sauce at the Hallapeño facility. This facility, Brown said, is “where I can do large runs of sauce in a larger kettle, and he has a bottling machine, too!”
Supporting Local Chefs
Since The Caterer’s Kitchen opened in May 2019, Brown had been working with the three family owners selling Martha’s products to the owners and producing chocolate sauce. She even worked with one of the three family owners to produce labels and packaging. She didn’t expect to buy it.
“The Caterer’s Kitchen was just a lucky day,” Brown said, but that luck was born from tragedy: One of the family’s owners died. Then, the public health emergency canceled most events and weddings.
So, the family sold the business to Brown. Currently, she said, “I use it for sauce and for farmers market goodies like coffee cake and cornbread.” Two local chefs, Justin Lewis and Abe Caterson, currently prepare their food at The Caterer’s Kitchen.
Brown said that with the public health emergency, “it’s more of a Ghost Kitchen,” but the mission of The Caterer’s Kitchen is the same as it always was, pandemic or not: “Help other chefs and businesses come to market without having the huge overhead.”
The public health emergency hasn’t slowed Brown down one bit. “The pandemic only gave me more business when it first started as people were baking more and ordering from Amazon a ton,” she said, “but that stabilized a couple of weeks ago.”
Martha’s is also expanding into more supermarkets. “I’m currently manufacturing cornbread and chocolate sauce for shelves at Whole Foods,” she said. “Super excited about this since I had to really work on my ingredients and processes to get this account.”
In addition to Whole Foods, you can buy Martha’s products at Ralph’s supermarkets and Draeger’s Market in the Bay Area. If you’re in San Francisco, you can also get Martha’s products at Boudin Bakery and Just For You Café.
In Amador County, you can find Martha’s baking mixes and chocolate sauce at The Biggest Little Kitchen Store in Jackson, and at Country Creek Mercantile in Sutter Creek. You can also order directly from the Martha’s All-Natural Baking Mixes website.
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