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North County Times

Success is berry sweet for Carlsbad entrepreneur

Russ Bruhn sampling Strawberry Spread.

 Russ Bruhn, owner of Carlsbad Gourmet, demonstrates how one of his strawberry spreads makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at his home in Carlsbad on Friday. 

By: SHANNON WINGARD - For the North County Times

It was a combination of his entrepreneurial spirit and the Hawaiian custom of gift giving that led Russ Bruhn to create Carlsbad Gourmet in 2004.

"I was thinking I was originally going to do this for kicks, but then everyone loved it," he said of the company's first product, a strawberry spread.

Several years later, the company has a product line that has grown to include fruit spreads, salad dressings, hot sauces, candies and barbecue sauces sold at local stores and restaurants.

Last year, Carlsbad Gourmet was awarded the second best product line nationwide by America's Best Food Show. Bruhn said the prestigious award is determined by the diversity and quality of each of his nearly 20 products.

Although many of the items are made with strawberries, he said they don't necessarily taste like it since the fruit becomes like a sweetener.

According to Bruhn, the most popular products include: the Strawberry Honey Mustard Salad Dressing; the Carlsbad Chronic Bar-B-Que Sauce, which is made from Pizza Port's signature beer and used on several of its pizzas; the Strawberry Hot Sauce; and the Strawberry Pomegranate Spread.

He also said that he has drawn from his own experiences to create other products such as the Ruby Red Strawberry Bar-B-Que Sauce, named after his recently deceased grandmother; the Strawberry/Lilikoi Spread, a popular fruit in Hawaii; and the Strawberry/Black Walnut Spread, inspired by a childhood memory.

Bruhn said the products of his home-based business are made at the California Creative Foods Co. in Carlsbad and are stored in a local warehouse. They are sold at various locations, including the Carlsbad Farmers Market and Aniata Cheese Co. in Del Mar, or online at

In addition, Bruhn said Legoland California's peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches are made with his strawberry spread, and Carlsbad Gourmet candies such as chocolate shells, chocolate rocks and strawberry licorice are also sold there.

According to Bruhn, his products are popular because they are made as natural as possible. The fruit-based spreads are sweetened with the fruit's natural sugars as well as raw sugar, "which is healthier," he said.

He also said his products include locally made ingredients, including the Strawberry/Lavender Spread that is made from lavender grown in Valley Center.

Although a food scientist helped him develop the strawberry spread recipe, which has about half the calories of most jams or preserves, he said he is now creating the recipes on his own.

He said his products are reflective of his tastes. For example, he said, "I love cooking with alcohol because it adds a tang," so he uses beers from local breweries to make his barbecue sauces, hot sauces and other products. In fact, he uses Pizza Port's Shark Bite beer to make its signature mustard for the pizzeria, as well as beer from the San Marcos-based Stone Brewery to make its Burning Trinity of Bastard Hot Sauces.

Contact freelance writer Shannon Wingard at

Name: Carlsbad Gourmet

Owners: Russ and Lisa Bruhn

Phone: (760) 730-3423

Web site:

Established: 2004

Services: Sells fruit spreads, hot sauces, salad dressings and candies

Number of employees: Six

Estimated sales for 2007: $1 million

Carlsbad Gourmet, product line.
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