Stonewall Kitchen, the specialty foods company that started at a New Hampshire farmers market and grew into a powerhouse brand with more than 8,500 wholesale accounts worldwide, has been sold to a Boston investment firm.

Stonewall CEO John Stiker and the rest of the executive team will remain with the company after the acquisition by Audax Private Equity, according to Margaux Maertens, Stonewall Kitchen’s spokeswoman. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Stonewall, famous for its jams, condiments and other specialty food items, has 410 seasonal and year-round employees, with about 300 of them in Maine. The company is based in York and includes nine retail stores in New England; a catalog and online division; and cooking schools and cafes in York and Costa Mesa, California.

“Our primary goal is to make this transition as smooth as possible with little to no operational changes at the moment,” Maertens said, adding that additional hiring will depend on “future acquisitions and growth strategies.”

Five years ago, Stonewall partnered with a New York investment firm, Centre Partners, to finance growth into national markets. That partnership led to the acquisitions of Tillen Farms cocktail accessories, the Napa Valley Naturals culinary oils and vinegars, and the Montebello imported organic Italian pasta. Combined with a licensing agreement with Legal Sea Foods, those initiatives nearly doubled the size of the company, a news release said.

The company declined to reveal its revenue. In 2016, Entrepreneur magazine reported that the company had $100 million in revenue.

“This is an exciting time for Stonewall Kitchen,” Stiker said in the release. “We’ve experienced a significant amount of growth over the last five years, and by partnering with Audax, we’ll look to provide even more innovative, high-quality and delicious products for our customers and guests as we continue to grow going forward.”

Stonewall Kitchen and Audax were a good match because the two companies share similar business values and philosophies, said Jay Mitchell, managing director of Audax. “We believe that our Buy & Build investment strategy, combined with their expertise in the specialty food industry, can transform the company into a more substantial enterprise,” he said.

Stonewall Kitchen was founded in 1991 by partners Jonathan King, a passionate gardener, and Jim Stott, an amateur cook with a talent for transforming what King grew into delicious jams and jellies. In a 2014 interview with the Press Herald, King said he had planned to become a child psychologist and Stott owned a construction company. Then a friend suggested they try selling their red pepper jelly,  orange cranberry marmalade and other creations at a local farmers market.

“It’s amazing how quickly the business grew, but when you’re in, it doesn’t seem to be at that pace,” King said. “We were selling just at the farmers market and doing it just like you do it in your kitchen, working out of an old grocery store in York. Then we went to the Fancy Food Show (in 1995) in New York – we drove a U-Haul down from Maine – and we won the most coveted award, the Outstanding Product Line award and Outstanding Jam (for roasted garlic onion jam) and got a tremendous amount of publicity.”

The men hired family members to help with their fledgling company’s fast growth, including King’s sister Natalie, who is now executive vice president, and his sister-in-law, Lori King, who is the chief operating officer.

Stonewall Kitchen’s artisanal products went on to win a total of 30 awards from the Specialty Food Association, a trade association that represents more than 3,500 businesses nationwide and produces the annual summer and winter Fancy Food Shows in New York. Stonewall has been the recipient of the association’s Outstanding Product Line Honors three times.

Jonathan King is now chief creative officer at the company he helped found. Stott retired five years ago.


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