For this former banker who accidentally got into the chocolate business, she’s made a name for herself with her bourbon truffles. Such a name, in fact, that “Garden & Gun” and Martha Stewart have written about the sweet delights. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, meet Kelly Ramsey, owner of Art Eatables and this week’s FACE of Louisville.
Tell us how you got into the chocolate business.
It was almost completely by accident. I worked for a large bank in the mortgage department, but I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot. So I wanted to create something, rather than move papers back and forth on my desk. I started making party favors for our little boy’s birthday parties, and from that, I started selling party favors to other people.
But in Kentucky, if you make any candy at all, you get asked if you make bourbon balls. There’s no way around it. I didn’t want to make bourbon balls because I really don’t like them. They just taste like sugar with bourbon thrown in, and the chocolate seems like an afterthought. So after enough people asked, I decided I was going to make a bourbon candy that I would be interested in eating. A friend of ours gave us a bottle of Jim Beam for me to experiment with, and I finally had something I thought might work. I took them to a cookout, and our friends loved them, but one turned around and said, “That’s made with Jim Beam, isn’t it?” That was my “aha” moment. I went back home and learned that I had a knack for picking the chocolates that accented the flavors of the bourbons I used. Maker’s Mark® found us at Kentucky Crafted, and we started selling our truffles in their gift shop. We got a commercial kitchen space, and when I realized that orders were coming in faster than I could make them while still working my other job, I knew I had to make the leap and quit my safe job and commit fully to the chocolate business.
You actually come from a long line of candy makers. Tell us about this.
The funny part is that it was kind of a secret. After I decided that I wanted to turn this into a real business, I was telling my 87-year-old grandma about it. I found out that she had been a candy maker in Australia when she was a young woman, and did that before marrying my grandfather and moving to the United States. I was surprised; I knew she had been a surfer, but not a candy maker. Being in Kentucky, I think it worked out better that I got the candy-making gene rather than the surfing one.
Explain the difference between a bourbon ball and a bourbon truffle.
Bourbon balls have been around a long time and usually consist of confectioners’ sugar and butter, coated in a thin layer of chocolate, and they almost always have pecans inside or out. The predominant flavor is sugary sweetness.
Truffles have are a chocolate ganache center dipped in chocolate. My Small-Batch Bourbon Truffles™ infuse the ganache with bourbon, and I carefully pair the chocolates I use to make sure the bourbon flavor comes through. I don’t just dump bourbon in chocolate, which would be a disservice to the bourbon. I make sure that they both pair harmoniously to give you a bourbon-chocolate experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
What is your most popular seller?
Do you eat chocolate every day?
Only when I’m creating a new pairing or recipe.
Who are your mentors and what advice do you treasure?
I’m thankful to be surrounded by a number of mentors, mostly my family and close friends. Many have been in business for themselves or have worked for small or family-owned businesses. The best advice is simple: just to keep doing what I am doing. Being passionate and creating a great product is the best road to success.
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
The only typical part of my workday is making chocolates. Other than that, nothing is typical. We might get visitors stopping in from Japan specifically to buy truffles, or Gavin DeGraw or the Silversun Pickups popping in. A distiller may bring us new products to try, or we may get a huge order for a special event. It always changes, and I never know what to expect from day to day.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
I would be a real estate broker and builder. I started college majoring in architectural and interior design with the idea of becoming a builder. I remember being 5 or 6 years old, designing hotels and houses, then going through the Sears catalog and picking out the furnishings for the rooms. I have always loved to build or make things.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I used to be in a band. Maybe one day I’ll get to do that again.
Fill in the blank. “You’ll never see me without my _________.”
If I’m at the shop, my Crocs. My days of suffering for fashion are long gone. Comfort wins.
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Go to Laser Blaze with my son Mikey
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that “quiet time”?
I’m caught in the middle. I get up early and don’t usually turn in until after midnight. Quiet time? What’s that?
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
Marketplace Restaurant, Safier, Orange Clover (grits … ’nough said), Manny & Merle’s, Hillbilly Tea and Yang Kee Noodle. There are a lot of other great ones, but this is as far as we can get from the shop or our house.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Change Your Life in 7 Days, by Paul McKenna. I always try to find positive, empowering things to read.
Candy or junk food splurge: Crunchy nugget ice from Circle K (I know, it’s weird.)
Guilty pleasure song: Anything by Pink
Tearjerker movie pick: Does the commercial with Sarah McLachlan and sheltered animals count?
Standby nail polish color: Is glitter a color?
Favorite Cocktail: Bourbon Mojito with basil
Cartoon alter-ego: Swedish Chef. We both make messes, sing in the kitchen and no one around me knows what I’m talking about either.
Thank you to Kelly Ramsey for letting us taste the magical bourbon truffles and all the other treats. For more information on Art Eatables, visit their website or drop by their shop at 631 S. Fourth St. downtown.
And much gratitude to our FACES photographer, Adele Reding, who always captures the beauty — both inside and out — of all of our FACES of Louisville. Visit Adele online at adeleredingphotography.com.
Want to read about more inspiring women in the community? Click here to check out more FACES.