Hayley Williams doesn’t take it personally when somebody tells her they’re not much for spicy food.
Instead, the founder of Fancy Infusions, a venture that turns out close to 30 varieties of pepper jelly including cranberry-spice, Thai red pepper-garlic and jalapeno-raspberry, spreads a spoonful of one of her signature flavours onto a saltine, then lets her detractor know they’re about to be pleasantly surprised.
"Certain people see the word pepper on the label and get scared off, but it’s not like your tongue is going to go ‘whoa’ or anything, not even close," says Williams, whose husband Trevor lovingly calls her Fancy Face, hence the "Fancy" on her business card.
"If somebody does find it a bit hot I tell them it pairs well with low-acidic things like cheese. Honestly, though, many have said they don’t need anything other than a spoon… that they’re content eating it straight out of the jar."
Williams, a Canada Post employee who along with her husband owns the No Frills outlet at 677 Stafford St., was living in Regina 12 years ago when a neighbour gave her a container of homemade pepper jelly as a housewarming gift. Williams, born and raised in Portage la Prairie, had zero experience with the preserve, which, according to iFood.tv, has been around in one form or another since the mid-1970s, when a chef from Lake Jackson, Texas, came up with the brilliant idea to marry hot peppers, sugar and vinegar. Williams was blown away by her neighbour’s treat, and immediately requested the recipe.
A short time later she was visiting her mother Trudy in Portage. One afternoon she put out some crackers and cold cuts, matched with a jar of pepper jelly she made herself. Trudy, a lifelong canner and pickler, asked to be taught how to prepare it. Her daughter gave her a quick tutorial and bang, just like that, she came up with a concoction that raised the jelly bar even higher.
Williams, who moved to Winnipeg in 2017, continued making her mother’s jelly for the next 10 years, almost every time she and Trevor entertained guests. She would slough friends and family off when they remarked it was so yummy, she should be bottling and selling it. Except after her mother died unexpectedly in June 2019 at age 59, she thought what better way to honour her memory than by sharing her pepper jelly with the rest of the world?
Williams launched Fancy Infusions as a cottage industry almost a year to the day after her mother’s death. Among the original eight flavours was one dubbed Trudy’s Pepper Jelly, which carries the caption, "Recreating tastes from heaven."
"People always said her jelly tasted heavenly, so yeah, that one’s definitely for her," she says, adding not only is there a scan of her mother’s signature on the label, she and her two sisters, who double as her business partners, all sport a matching tattoo on their right wrist, again in their mother’s handwriting.
In accordance with provincial guidelines, Williams could have kept cooking out of her own kitchen if she’d chosen to stick to farmers markets and such exclusively. She has a "millionaire mindset," however, which she lists as the reason she moved over to a commercial kitchen in February 2021. The self-described social-media guru began advertising on Facebook and Instagram shortly thereafter; that is, when she wasn’t doing things the old-fashioned way, by showing up at one place or another and announcing, "Here’s what I’ve got. I know you’re going to love it."
(While Fancy Infusions is currently available at De Luca’s, Calabria Market and Fromagerie Bothwell, to name a few, it wasn’t before late last month that one could pick up a jar at her and her husband’s own grocery store. She’d been so laser-focused on supplying Manitoba retailers as far west as Dauphin and as far east as Steinbach, not to mention filling individual orders, that there was scarcely enough left over until recently, when she hired an assistant cook to join her in the "jelly emporium.")
Megan McMaster is the owner of Peckish, a year-old business that delivers beautifully adorned charcuterie boxes right to your front door. From the get-go, McMaster has made a point of featuring Manitoba-made products in her arrangements. She was excited to come across Fancy Infusions on Instagram around this time last year. Since hooking up with Williams, every charcuterie box she’s assembled, pretty much, has included Fancy Infusions jelly in the mix.
"Before starting Peckish, I used to put together (charcuterie) boards for me and my husband, so I was already familiar with a lot of the pepper jellies that are out there," McMaster says when reached at home. "The thing that sets Hayley’s apart is that she kind of takes you aback with all the different flavours and combinations she’s able to come up with."
McMaster, who can’t think of anything better to chow down on than a wheat cracker topped with salami, cucumber, black-pepper cheddar and Fancy Infusions’ habanero-mango jelly, says Williams goes out of her way to provide specialty jellies tied to a certain season or holiday, such as a bold-red, pomegranate jelly she readied for this past Valentine’s Day.
As well, because McMaster’s husband is the head equipment manager for the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL team’s players and coaching staff have turned into fans of Fancy Infusions, too.
"I’ve done lots of special events with the Jets, including providing plane-ride snacks for road trips," she says. "I also did playoff boards for all the (Jets) wives and girlfriends last spring, when they were stuck at home, watching the games on TV. Afterwards I received lots of compliments from them in regard to Hayley’s jellies."
Williams, a Food Network "junkie," is constantly developing new varieties of pepper jelly. This month she’ll team up with Danny Kleinsasser of Danny’s Whole Hog to unveil a new jelly infused with saskatoon berries that will be exclusive to his operation. She is also making final preparations to add a selection of hot honeys and wine-based jellies to her sweet-and-savoury arsenal.
It’s been a whirlwind first 20 months on the job, she says. She has a hard time believing how far she’s come already, and is only sorry that that her mother didn’t live long enough to share in her good fortune.
"My mom was always my biggest advocate, and I know she’s somewhere, jumping up and down for me," says Williams, who is Métis and proudly advertises Fancy Infusions as being BIPOC-owned.
"She taught me how to make her pepper jelly, but she taught me a lot more than that. She taught me how to work hard, how to be my own person, how to be a mom… I owe her so, so much."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.