Sandown – In the wee hours of the morning, six days a week, James Price trudges downstairs from his apartment into his bakery to heat up the brick ovens in preparation for cooking his 17th century-recipe macaroons.
When customers walk through the door of St. Julien Macaroons, Price’s 4 a.m. effort is evident in the wonderful, mouth-watering almond-scented aroma wafting from the bakery.
It was providential when somewhat adverse circumstances 26 years ago pushed the Price family toward creating St. Julien Macaroons of White Oaks Farm. Today, James Price ships the delicious confections all over the world. In 1974, James’ father, W. C. Price, was a stockbroker who experienced as business setback that cut the family income in half.
James was 13, but his siblings, Billy and Susan, were approaching college age, “and it meant mom had to go to work,” said Price. The Prices joined forces with a man from their church who had inherited a recipe for macaroons originally developed by nuns in the 1600s in the town of Nancy, France.
The man’s macaroon-making business had been running in the red, but working with the Prices, he got the bakery on its feet. “In 1979, we bought him out,” said Price.
Following the father’s philosophy, “Bake a little. Build a little,” the Prices started baking St. Julien Macaroons from their home in Sherborn, Mass., which had originally been called White Oaks Farm.
“We took a risk,” he said. “We sold some stock and put on an addition to our kitchen and bought our own ovens and equipment”. The Price living room was used for shipping and his brother’s room was the business office.
My father said, “What if we freeze these and sell them mail order,” said Price. And they did. Price estimates that 90 percent of his business today is mail order, and he anticipates he’ll ship up to 20,000 tubs of macaroons this year.
While W. C. Price continued working in the financial world, Price and his mother essentially ran the business. Although macaroons helped put his sister and brother through college, their interests were in other fields.
“I’ve grown up in it,” said Price. “I don’t know how to make anything else. I’m not a baker of cakes and pastries.
Price studied business management in college, but only in the spring semesters. “I’d spend the fall semester at the ovens, taking care of business. Then after Christmas, I’d go back to school.
“Mom is from the old school,” he said. “Up until 1993. (St. Julien) was run in the 1950′s style. We had hundreds of 3-inch-by-5-inch index cards in shoeboxes, and that was our customer base. There was tiny little writing on them with H’s for honey almond and asterisks for half-tub orders. That was her system. The labels were typed on a 1928 manual typewriter. They resisted technology right up until they retired in 1993.”
When he took over so did modern technology. He purchased a computer and started accepting credit cards and installed a fax machine. An 800 number was soon in use, and in 1999, St. Julien Macaroons became available online. Last week, he had an expert in to show them how to use software to it’s full potential for inventory control and customers histories.
The one thing Price won’t update is his product. St. Julien produces only two macaroons: honey almond and chocolate almond. “Our macaroons are 100 percent natural with no preservatives,” said Price.
It’s just crushed almonds, egg white, sugar and honey. The chocolate almond uses Dutch chocolate. There is no flour, shortening, salt, egg yolk, or coconut. No coconut? Not in the real thing, said Price. In the 17th century, without refrigeration, the “Macaroons de Nancy” made by the French nuns went stale quickly. “Coconut is one of nature’s best preservatives,” explained Price, “so somewhere along the line – and we don’t know where – someone said, “Let’s add coconut to these almond macaroons” and that’s how the coconut macaroons were born.”
“Our macaroons are the original and traditional macaroons,” he said.
St. Julien literature even promotes storing the cookies. It reads: St. Julien macaroons are not like ordinary cookies! They prefer the freezer! You can refrigerate them up to a month and keep them in the freezer for a year or more.”
They’re elegant gifts for all occasions, and it’s good to have a tub or two in the freezer for last-minute gifts or for company, he said.
Price makes no apology for the fancy price tag on his products. “Almonds are extremely expensive and we make (the macaroons) with the finest, most expensive ingredients” he said.
Price said he has a customer who drives five hours to buy St. Julien Macaroons. “But, we strongly suggest calling ahead if you want to make a pickup.”
He said he has shipped to Thailand, China and Australia, and that Ross Perot and a member of the British royal family have been recipients of St. Julien Macaroons.
Soon, Price and his staff of about 10 will move up operations to seven days a week preparing for the holidays and the hoped for results of a St. Julien segment on the Food Network.
St. Julien was featured in a book called “Food Finds.” When the Food Network talked to the authors about doing a Christmas special based on their book and said they would be in the Boston area, the authors recommended a trip to St. Julien Macaroons. The three-minute segment is expected to begin airing six times a week for up to two weeks beginning right after Thanksgiving. “They told me to expect an additional 2,000 orders,” said Price. “I’m baking as many macaroons as I can fit in my freezer and I’m going at a break-neck pace that I’m not used to. But the good Lord has guided this business since 1974, so whatever is going to happen, He will take care of us.”
The post office next to the macaroon bakery is hoping for a little guidance as well if St. Julien Macaroons hits it really big. “We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Kathy Scanlon, a Sandown postal employee. “We’re waiting for a new postmaster to start, but we might have to hire someone on a temporary basis.”
Whatever success St. Julien realizes, it will remain a family business. Price’s father died a few years ago, but his mother, Elizabeth, still comes up occasionally from her home in North Carolina to help, and his 11 year old son who lives in Ohio with his mother pitches in whenever he visits. Price said he has no immediately plans to expend his line. “My goal is to sell the world’s finest macaroons to everybody in America and the rest of the world that wants them,” he said. “When that’s done, then we can look into marketing other products. The way I see it, “we’ve got something that is really special and I’d like to concentrate on that.”
St. Julien Macaroons is located at 343 Main Street, Sandown, NH 03873. It’s office number is 603-887-2233 and the order line toll free is 1-800-473-8869. It’s web address is www.whiteoaksfarm.com.