The Bulls of Durham book project went from a notion to an official project on August 2nd, 2016 first with an email account (TheBullsOfDurham at gmail.com) and then with an Instagram account. In that order because an email is required for an Instagram account, however the social media aspect was the focus. As an effort to both catalog all the bulls of Durham, city and county, and to help reach more Bull City inhabitants creating a social media presence was a first step.
I invited other Instagram users, and later Facebook and Twitter users, to share the bulls they found throughout our city using the hashtag #TheBullsOfDurham. Three short days later on August 5th, Rebecca Burnett was the first to do just that. Elated to see that the project was already garnering attention, I reached out to Rebecca to meet up for an interview for the project.
It may have only taken 3 days for The Bulls of Durham project to connect us via Instagram, but it would take another 2 months before we could find a time to meet up in person. It was a beautiful, sunny October day in the Bull City by the time Rebecca and I met up at Beyu Caffe on Main Street — a location that was quickly becoming a go to for interviewing for this project.
Over delicious coffee and breakfast, Rebecca and I discussed her sweet contribution to our city. With a company name like The Durham Toffee Company and featuring a bull on all her branding, I was wondering how deeply steeped Rebecca was in the city. It surely doesn’t take long to notice that Durhamites LOVE bulls and it’s only a matter of time before the amazing community vibe of Durham attaches to newcomers leaving them with a fondness for all things bull related. I asked Rebecca how long she has been in the Durham area.
Rebecca: My husband David grew up here. We actually live in the house that he grew up in. I love it! I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but I’ve lived in Durham now for about 10 years.
Rebecca: I started selling confections seasonally in 2008 when I was a single mom. I started selling them at Christmas time for a bit of extra cash, and just for fun, honestly. The kitchen has always been really therapeutic for me. Every year the demand kept growing until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I had to acknowledge that perhaps I was meant to enter more fully into the adventure of it all!
Last year, 2015, I had the biggest holiday season ever. Our business was called Evermore Color at that point, selling a combination of my illustrations and confections, primarily online. The success was a wakeup call. Saving some of the fun details for later, we changed the name of our business to Durham Toffee and officially launched in February of 2016.
Is this something you do full time?
Rebecca: Well, I have 5 kids, so that’s the tricky thing. I want to love my kids well. I only have them at home with me for a little while longer. So, I try to do most of my work while they are at school, and also invite them into the process as much as possible. The bottom line is, however, there are just way more opportunities than there is time. My husband David and I want to be careful to manage the business instead of letting it manage us. Family is more important to us than building a business. Honestly though, since I love what I do so much, it’s ridiculously hard to hold back!
The excitement for and appreciation of all that had brought The Durham Toffee Company into existence was evident in Rebecca’s words and tone. I was eager to hear what was her inspiration to jump in full steam into the confection biz and for the name.
Rebecca: As I shared earlier, I began making toffee just for fun and a bit of extra holiday cash back in 2008. Over the years, the demand kept growing until our record-breaking holiday season last year (2015). In January of this year (2016) my friend Elise said to me, “I’m going to get in your face a little bit. I am going to be that kind of friend that says what she thinks. You have got to package your toffee and sell it on a large scale. And you need to call it Durham Toffee.”
David had been encouraging me to take my business “big time” for 2 or 3 years — ever since we met, married, and combined our families into one crazy large one in 2012–13. I always resisted, saying that I don’t want to stand and stir all day every day. However, when my friend said what she did, it got me thinking. And truly, something about calling it “Durham Toffee” made the difference.
Suddenly, the vision became bigger — and almost immediately, the picture of our bull logo came to mind! And of course, my husband adored the entire idea the moment he heard it, particularly because Durham is his hometown.
In January of 2016, my mother-in-law came from out of town and was set on introducing me to “this fabulous boutique called Smitten” her sister had told her about. So we went and purchased — because you can’t not! Somehow we ended up at the register talking about the idea of Durham Toffee. I know I didn’t bring it up. I blame it on my mother-in-law.
What we didn’t know was that the person we were chatting with was Nancy McKaig, the store’s owner. Nancy loves women entrepreneurs. She said, “Okay. Let’s launch Durham Toffee from here on Valentine’s Day. Let’s do it.”
I left wondering what in the world had just happened and absolutely clueless about what the year held. That’s how the whole thing happened. It just took on a life of its own. It’s been fun — really fun — an ADVENTURE.
Throughout the entire journey, my husband’s and family’s support and opinions have been key. I adore what I do, but I fight to keep my family first. I mess that up a lot, but together, we get it right too. My husband supports me 100% and is often in the kitchen with me, labeling packages, and making deliveries. Our kids, some of them more than others, wink-wink, help a lot too. We have a time chart and they can log in and work whenever they want — or whenever they decide that it’s worth pitching in so they can eat dinner earlier.
For me, this whole sweet thing is no longer just about stirring one small pot of toffee at a time in my little kitchen. It’s more about my making toffee in my little kitchen in order to bring a new sweetness to those around me, especially those in my singularly wonderful hometown of Durham. For me, making toffee and other sweet treats is just a platform for connection.
With such a love for her hometown of Durham, I was interested to know what stood out the most about Durham to her.
Rebecca: That’s a good question. The thing that I love the most about Durham is something I first experienced last year at the Bull City Food and Beer Experience at the DPAC — camaraderie. There is a certain pride and loyalty that runs deep among the food artists (and beyond) of Durham! Even though there were 100’s of participants — restaurant owners, vendors and beer producers — it didn’t feel competitive. It felt like a big, crazy family, each one for the other and for Durham. I feel so honored to be considered part of this!
This camaraderie has been especially significant for The Durham Toffee Company: one person tastes my toffee and tells another — on purpose — and just to help me out. I will always feel a special sort of thankfulness to Nancy at Smitten for launching me, and to John Boy of Sam’s Quick Shop and Sam’s Bottle Shop — and also to Tony Holleman of Blue Lizard Screen Printing! John, Tony, and my husband went to school together. John invited us to the DPAC event, which was rather like a big debut for us, and Tony simply shared the samples we gave him. And here we are! One Durhamite shared with another and now I can’t even keep up with the orders! Thank you, Durham, for your generous spirit — and for loving my sweet treats!
If there is one thing that everyone in Durham, as well as in the entire triangle area knows, is that Durham has been and continues to be undergoing a lot of change. In less than 5 years the downtown area has gone from a place no one wanted to go to an area with severe parking problems because it’s where 1000s want to spend their time. I asked Rebecca what changes she would like to see in Durham.
Rebecca: I think that I would say more of the same. Durham is blossoming, growing, working for the common good — good things! Eternal things! I love the creativity, the revival, the life. I think that is what we’re made for — for life, for fullness, for vibrancy. Every person is a treasure in God’s eyes and has something significant to offer. Even though I blow it many times, I want to live every day as if I believe this with every fiber of my being — because I really do. I want to offer who I am and support others so they can do the same!
Durham has come SO far. It used to be a rather scary pit stop along the railroad and now it has become a chosen destination! So I’d just like to see more of the beauty and creativity and love that got that ball rolling in the first place. Go Durham!
There’s a lot to love about Durham, North Carolina — too many things to name, let alone count. Everyone has their own bits of the Bull City they adore and cherish the most, but I wanted to know if there was only 1 thing Rebecca could share with someone who’d never been to Durham, what it would be. I asked by creating the hypothetical that 4 years from now, someone comes to visit her and it’s their first time coming to Durham. They open her copy of The Bulls of Durham that is sitting on her coffee table and turn to her bookmarked page to read it. What was the one thing would she want them to learn about Durham on that page?
Rebecca: It has to do with the restoration of it all. I’d want them to know that it was once something entirely different and it’s being made new. And I’d want them to know that I adore my sweet little part in the big story!
As the interview came to a close, I asked the hardest hitting question of them all. Which bull in the city is her favorite?
Rebecca: . . . the Bean Traders’ bull because that is my favorite coffee place. It’s on 54 and they have this copper bull out front that is so funky. I adore their coffee, their cool people, and their bull.
A final sweet note from Rebecca: All holiday orders need to be placed by December 5th and customers can receive a 15% discount off entire order when using coupon code “BULLSOFDURHAM.”
To follow The Bulls of Durham book project email TheBullsOfDurham at gmail.com and say, “Yo Sheila. Please put me on the mailing list.” Also follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Oh! And now that this website is a thing, you can check back here. Make it your homepage. Tell all your friends. Write home to your mom about it. :::Flashes Bull City hand sign.:::
Oh and treat yourself, your mom and everyone you love to the best coffee mug of all time, which happens to support this here book project. No big deal. But very big deal. Click HERE.
Sheila Amir is a health & nutrition writer who fell in love with Durham, North Carolina and starting writing a book about it.