Stephanie Upshaw's sweet tooth led to a business she could sink her teeth into.
Founder of Bluff City Toffee, Upshaw says, "I've been making toffee for 30 years for friends and family. Just my go-to holiday recipe that I make. Four years ago, I decided to turn it into a business."
Upshaw, who sells her toffee online, opened her first brick-and-mortar retail store November 17th at 5160 Sanderlin in Racquet Club Plaza.
"I've always had a terrible sweet tooth," says Upshaw, who moved to Memphis from Louisville when she was in the sixth grade.
- Bob Bayne Photography
- Stephanie Upshaw, founder of Bluff City Toffee
Apparently, the rest of her family also had an affinity for sugar. "When we were growing up, my mother would have all-dessert dinners," she says. "It would be no-bake cookies, pecan pie, and peanut butter fudge. I loved those special nights. It didn't happen very often."
Upshaw, who worked in corporate jobs most of her professional life, began cooking when she was at Deluxe Check Printers in Nashville. "When I graduated from the University of Memphis, my first job was in Nashville. And I started cooking with a friend of mine."
That's when she began making toffee. "We would have cooking days, and that's what I would do."
Eight years later, Upshaw moved to Grainger, where she worked for 20 years. One day while she was cooking toffee, a friend called and asked if she'd be interested in making batches of toffee for client gifts. "I think it was maybe 50 or 60 orders. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. I can't cook that much.' But I did. One thing led to another. I looked into packaging, branding. I said, 'I'm going to try this.'
"My daughter had gone to college, and I wanted to do something different. I'd been making this [toffee] and decided to make a run for it. I started Bluff City Toffee. That was in 2016. I loved the idea of starting a business."
Upshaw, who began working out of a commercial kitchen, made batches of her toffee for bazaars and other functions. "That year, I started making my nutrition panels, started working with food scientists to understand shelf life."
She began getting Bluff City Toffee in retail stores. Buster's Liquors & Wines was first. Now, she says, "I'm in about 15 retail stores."
Upshaw, who wants to ultimately build a kitchen at her store, wanted a "fulfillment center" where she could fill her online orders as well as provide a retail space for walk-ins and pick-up orders. The store is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "That will run through the holiday season. And then by appointment."
She makes English toffee. "I feel like I just associate the holidays with English toffee." It's "a softer toffee, and it doesn't stick to your teeth. It's handcrafted, small-batch. It's not mass-produced. The texture of the toffee is what I find people love the most."
Her toffee is "so simple" to make, Upshaw says. It only takes four ingredients: butter, sugar, pecans, and chocolate. "It's tricky to cook because of the heat."
But, she says, "Less is more."
Upshaw, who tweaked the recipe over the years, originally made milk chocolate pecan toffee. She now includes a dark chocolate toffee with sea salt. "So many people requested it. I use Ghirardelli's chocolate. It's my favorite. It's not bitter."
And people love it, she says. "Milk chocolate is what put me on the map, but during the holiday season, the dark chocolate flies off the shelf."
Upshaw branched out this year and began making toffee popcorn. She coats the popcorn with the base that she uses for her toffee and adds peanuts.
So, how much toffee does Upshaw, with her sweet tooth, consume?
"I'm trying to get out of quality control. To watch the waistline, I had to back off a bit."