RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The owner of an 8-year-old jam company is leaping into the business full time after years of growing it as a small business while holding down office jobs. The playfully branded company is inspired by decades-old family recipes and a mission to connect LGBTQ and underrepresented people and businesses.
Dayum This is My Jam – shortened to Dayum Jam – was created by Andy Waller in 2015. The company’s recipes come from a hand-stitched cookbook passed down through five generations of their longtime friend and co-founder Lindsey Larkin’s family. Much like its moniker, Dayum Jam’s products are titled with lively wordplay based on popular music from several generations.
Baby Got Blackberry was the first jam the company named and created, inspired by Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit song. Other song-branded jams include Bohemian Raspberry, Strawberry Zeal Forever and Hot for Peaches.
“Our longest-running tagline for the business is ‘Open a Jar and Jam out,’ ” Waller said. “We’re using good packaging, a fun logo and a mission that’s rooted into the community to push people to our products, rather than just getting a typical jar.”
Dayum Jam also sells other items, such as pickles, salsa and a pancake mix, complete with similarly energetic names, including Psycho Diller and Livin’ La Vida Verda. The company’s online ordering platform allows users to pay on a sliding scale, with choices from $8 to $10 for a product listed at $9.
It just added a weekly service, The Weekly Jam, where customers can order Dayum Jam items alongside products from other small local businesses in Waller’s network, and have them delivered.
Waller is queer, transgender and nonbinary. Some of their previous projects have garnered a following among the local LGBTQ community. Waller founded Safe Space Market, a community of more than 50 small businesses with an emphasis on LGBTQ and other marginalized owners.
That experience has segued into Dayum Jam’s newest section of the company, TransJam events. The events service is planning and hosting inclusive local events, parties and private workshops. Its second event in November was “Dragstravaganza,” which drew around 300 kids for story time, drag performances and games at Diversity Richmond.
“TransJam is rad; it’s super new. The gist of it is combining Dayum Jam and my visibility with the work that I do and furthering my love and connection to small underrepresented businesses.”
The events side of the business is still fairly new, but its jams and pickles took off in 2021. Sales grew from $61,000 to $101,000, enough to persuade Waller to jump in full time even as their wife stepped away from the workforce to care for their children.
“Before that, I was juggling running a small business with a full-time job. In 2020, I made huge efforts to increase sales due to the pandemic, my wife leaving her job ... and my becoming our sole breadwinner,” Waller said.
Creating their own work environment
Waller’s decision came after more than a decade spent working in office jobs where they said they struggled to feel accepted as a queer and trans person using they/them pronouns.
Waller left their job at a state agency in November after working there for four years.
“The environment was what you might expect from a state office,” Waller said. “It was very khaki, and the average person was 20 years older than me. I was definitely the black sheep.”
Waller, 38, identified as nonbinary at the start of that job, but didn’t transition until a year later. They started that job shortly after Virginia included LGBTQ as a protected class in 2018.
“Those state protections gave me the motivation and the feeling that I would be OK to transition,” Waller said. “The environment wasn’t necessarily the most friendly, but I thought I wouldn’t be discriminated against, or at least people would face repercussions if they did.”
Waller said that while protected legally, they ended up facing other forms of social isolation.
One of their closest office friends, a middle-aged woman, stopped speaking with them after they transitioned. Waller corrected them for referring to them by the wrong pronouns, and that employee slowly stopped talking with them afterward, Waller said.
Waller also faced a constant stream of people misgendering them. The office announced Waller’s transition with an email and sent a reminder after continued misgendering, Waller said.
“The office was supportive at first, but that ended pretty quickly. It felt like the mental labor was on me from management to educate people,” Waller said. “Don’t use the person for training that is already going through a difficult life change.”
Figuring out which bathroom they should use became a struggle. Waller would have preferred the office to rename all the bathrooms as all-gendered spaces. But the agency wanted to have Waller stick to a specific bathroom.
“I shouldn’t have to use a man’s bathroom. I shouldn’t have to use a woman’s bathroom, because I’m not a woman. But the world doesn’t work that way, and I hate to say it, but to the average person, a nonbinary or all-gender bathrooms is like a massive ask,” Waller said.
Waller said they faced difficulties over their queer and nonbinary identity in three office positions before their last and final one.
“These things weren’t as egregious compared to what the average person can look at and recognize. If you take it all together, and it was job after job, it’s hard to deal with,” Waller said. “There are a lot of queer people who will just put their head down and say they don’t care about it. I’m just not that type of person.”
Battling through an awkward growth phase
Now, Waller is taking over more of the company’s functions since going full time. Dayum Jam is working with two jam chefs, an events person and a bookkeeper while pushing its way through a tricky period in its growth.
Dayum Jam started out using just 10 pounds of fruit for two cooking sessions in 2015. Now, it uses from 50 to 60 pounds of fruit per day. One session’s batch of 24 8-ounce jars has turned into six to seven batches.
“And we’re not even keeping up with orders,” Waller said.
Dayum Jam was initially small enough to store the fruit in a single freezer and even had some leftover for winter when some of the fruits were out of season.
“We make way too much now,” Waller said. “I have three freezers; they’re huge, and it’s still not enough.”
The company – which works out of a commercial kitchen with the Lakeside Farmers’ Market in Henrico County – is also facing some small-business growing pains when it comes to sourcing some of its fruits, Waller said.
“I’m in this weird gray area. For a lot of farmers, 100 pounds of strawberries is a lot to supply, whereas for a huge corporate supplier, my business is peanuts. Ideally, I’d love to work directly with a local farmer, but that’s in flux.”
Dayum Jam works with a national supplier that connects businesses to small farms that specialize in the fruits they need.
“Right now, that’s the pain point we’re at,” Waller said. “Slinging jams is a lot of work.”
The events side of the business finished 2022 with a couple of events. It now has two more scheduled for February. One includes an art market with a special speaker, a trans author and cartoonist; the other is a second Dragstravaganza at Diversity Richmond with community art, LGBTQ makers market, performances and more.