A Sweet Business: Esper Products Deluxe
Esper Products Deluxe
A small jelly factory began in the fall of 1937 at 46 Main Street in Kissimmee, Florida. It produced 15-20 varieties of jams, jellies and marmalades. By 1950 there were 38 varieties of tropical flavors offered and the plant used an average of two tons of sugar per week.
Aided by J.B. McCauley, Mrs. Emily Bast, widow of G.Y. Bast Sr. founded the business. Locals always referred to it as “the jelly factory” but she chose to use her mother’s maiden name and called it Esper Products DeLuxe. Local citrus and other fruits were used to manufacture her products. Shipping fruit home had become a popular habit of tourists during the Christmas season, and Mrs. Bast’s products were soon shipped as gifts during the holidays.
Mrs. Bast sold the business in 1950 to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan McFarland who remained at the Main Street location until 1956 until they opened a 9,500-square-foot facility on Orange Blossom Trail, about one mile north of the city limits. One of the features was a juice bar where King Sun orange juice was sold. King Sun was another local product produced in Kissimmee by Osceola Fruit Distributors. The kitchen could be viewed from the show room through a large glass window. Of the 11 employees, nine were women who cooked 60 varieties of jellies, jams, marmalades and conserves in the five huge stainless steel vats.
All manner of citrus was used – kumquat, calamondin, tangerine, lime, pink grapefruit and numerous varieties of oranges. The citrus was also combined with other fruits such as cherry, pineapple and coconut, creating unique selections. Kumquats preserved whole, spiced or aged in rum or brandy was a specialty.
Duncan passed away in 1987, but his wife Suzanne continued to run the business until her death in 2002. In 2003 when the business closed, the family recipes and the Esper brand were sold to a South Florida competitor.
Written by Anza Bast
Sources: “Kissimmee Gazette” issues 1938-1956; “Orlando Sentinel” December 7, 2003