Tara Grey was living in a Brooklyn apartment and working as an actress “in terrible plays,” as she puts it, while supporting herself with full-time restaurant jobs, when on a whim she started making jam.
She had a flashback to Montague, the small town north of Muskegon where she grew up, and remembered a fourth-grade project. Her class made jelly — and it was a revelation. “It wasn’t anything like the grocery store jelly my mother put on my sandwiches,” she recalls.
So in her tiny New York kitchen, she made her first batch of jam since elementary school. It was apricot, rather than grape, and she gave it away to friends. That was the tiny spark that turned into the company she founded two years ago here in Michigan to market her line of small-batch jams.
She planned to call it “The Smitten Kitchen” but discovered the name was already taken. So she settled for Gus & Grey. Although Gus is not much help. He’s her 15-year-old cat.
Gus & Grey is a one-woman show, with a line of jams and jellies from recipes she dreams up and gives colorful names. No simple “grape jelly” here. Her jars are filled with Space Jam (star fruit), Sassy Redhead (strawberry ginger), Floozie (peach), and Trifecta (triple berry).
Her jams are not all sweet. Grey also makes a habenero sparked jam called Hubba Hubba and a spiced banana spread dubbed Funky Monkey. She uses local ingredients whenever possible, and no preservatives. Grey’s happy to be part of the booming cottage industry locally that includes other small-scale entrepreneurs like the James sisters of Drought, the raw juice company, and Andy Sheridan of Something Chocolate.
The Gus & Grey production kitchen is at Traffic Jam and Snug in Detroit where Grey’s day job is catering, special events, and marketing, the same tasks she handled for the Manhattan restaurants Alto and Gilt during her time in New York — and for a brief time in Aruba.
At this point, Grey is the only jam maker, although she occasionally hires people to help prepare the fruit. But as more and more orders come in, she says she will probably have to start auditioning jam makers.
New York was where she met fellow Michiganian Steve Kay, now her husband. They moved back home when they decided they wanted “more than a fire escape to hang out in.” They live in Ferndale with Grey’s business partner, Gus.
Gus & Grey jams are available at Parker Street Market in Detroit, Zingerman’s Roadhouse and the Produce Station in Ann Arbor, the Birmingham Farmers Market and by mail order at gusandgrey.com.