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At 90, spice maker wins $25G in small biz contest

Jeri Woodhouse, owner of A Taste of the

Jeri Woodhouse, owner of A Taste of the North Fork, and Earl Fultz, creator of cHarissa, offer samples at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York on March 1, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

Earl Fultz, a 90-year-old entrepreneur who started the seasoning business cHarissa two years ago with his late wife, Moroccan native Gloria Elmaleh, has won a $25,000 small business contest he hopes will catapult the operation to a whole new level.

The Peconic Landing couple began selling the spice, an Americanized take on the traditional Moroccan seasoning harissa, at the Greenport farmer’s market in 2012, offering samples cooked with meat, fish and vegetables.  

“When we first started, the only way people were really going to buy cHarissa is if they tasted it,” Fultz said. “The Greenport farmer’s market was the perfect way to put it on display, and as more people tried it, that’s when it started to take off.”

The blend uses a less aggressive and more flavorful cumin instead of the fiery jalapeño used in traditional harissa, providing a richer, more palpable spice that Fultz says “can be used on anything.”

After his wife died in 2013 at age 85 from emphysema, Fultz continued the business, always looking to grow it, in her honor.

He got a big assist earlier this month when cHarissa was named one of five national winners of the Wells Fargo Small Business Project Contest. Winners receive $25,000 and are paired with a mentor to help develop and strategize a concrete business initiative over a period of six months. Wells Fargo also donates $5,000 to the winner’s charity of choice.

The contest garnered 3,600 entries, with Fultz being the only winner from the Northeast.

“There’s a lot of creativity out on the market,” said Jim Malcolm, Wells Fargo Small Business Strategy Leader for the Northeast region. “It’s inspiring to me, to see this type of opportunity growing.”

Fultz will be paired with expert small business developer Ellen Rohr, founder of the “Bare Bones Biz” plan. Fultz said that his main priority moving forward is developing a marketing strategy and expanding cHarissa’s client base on a more national level, with a focus on specialty and outdoor markets.

“Everything we’re doing right now is kind of a test,” Fultz said. “As a small-business owner, It makes it both interesting and exciting. Sometimes, you’re on nails, but that’s part of the excitement.”

Ultimately, Fultz hopes to take earnings he’s made from the company and create a foundation in his wife’s name.

“I’m at a different phase of my life now. I don’t want that Maserati or a yacht,” Fultz said. “The foundation would be so things can live on after us. It’s a bit of a dream, but then again, what isn’t?”

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