Carrie Rengers

Late Steve Einsel is ‘up there smiling’ at business opening

When Ken Smith talks about Steve’s Jams & Jellies, he always says “we.”

Technically, he alone is the one opening the business’ new location at Pawnee and Meridian on Sunday.

His husband, company founder Steve Einsel, died unexpectedly from a stroke in June.

Smith says he knows Einsel is with him, though.

“In spirit, I think he was the one who helped me get everything going,” Smith says. “He kept me motivated. He still keeps me motivated.”

Getting the new place ready has been a challenge, but Smith says it’s also a link to Einsel and “keeping his legacy alive basically.”

“It was actually his dream,” Smith says of the business.

In 2004, Einsel retired from teaching after 34 years, 23 years of which were with Derby High School.

He continued substitute teaching for almost a decade and remained involved as a DECA chapter faculty sponsor and received DECA’s Outstanding Service Award during its annual international conference last year. Though he taught business and entrepreneurship, Einsel hadn’t planned to start his own business.

However, Smith says, “He didn’t want to sit in his chair and … just do nothing.”

Einsel and Smith had pear trees in their yard, and Smith found a jam maker on clearance in 2013.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you make some jam or jelly?’”

So Einsel started experimenting. He shared what he made with friends.

“People enjoyed them.”

Then he entered what he made in the state fair.

“He actually took home 11 ribbons,” Smith says.

A business was born.

“We started with 30 flavors,” Smith says.

It was Einsel’s business. He started selling what he made at farmers markets.

Smith kept his day job until one Saturday market’s sales were $800 – at $5 a jar.

“Steve was like, ‘How can I make up that many jars for the next Saturday?’” Smith says.

“Well,” he says he replied, “I’m just going to have to come home and get you organized. Either I’m going to organize you, or you’re just going to get out of the way.”

Einsel replied: “The kitchen’s yours.”

That led to a discussion about Smith helping full time.

“We had a long heart-to-heart, and he said, ‘Well, do you think we can make it?’” Smith says.

Einsel was apprehensive.

“Screw it,” Smith says he told him. “Let’s get going.”

He says they made a profit their first year but still ran the business out of their home and a VFW post, which was their certified kitchen, even as the flavors grew to 120.

This year, they decided to move into former restaurant space at 2555 W. Pawnee.

“We’re using it primarily as my certified kitchen (and) storage,” Smith says.

“We’re not really looking for foot traffic,” he says. “We’re just looking for someplace to make our jams and store them.”

The store will be open only about one Sunday a month or by appointment. The markets still will be the main points of sale.

The morning of their June 11 market is when Einsel, who was almost 69, had his stroke.

“We had to miss market, which he hated missing markets,” Smith says.

Einsel died two days later.

Smith decided to proceed with the store. He’s having a grand opening from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

“This is what he wanted,” an emotional Smith says of Einsel.

He’s had a lot of help from friends, some of whom assisted him at markets right after Einsel died.

“I’m able to get it done myself now. It’s easy.”

The business side is hard for him, though.

“I have a number of friends who have broken into his computer,” Smith says. “I wasn’t even sure where to find the invoices.”

Einsel handled all the business aspects. Smith is learning. He’s able to open because he passed inspection.

“I passed with flying colors,” he says.

Smith believes Einsel is pleased the storefront finally is opening.

“I think he’s up there smiling.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers