Jordan Castro’s new business rose from a simple salt cellar—a gray concrete cylinder that stands just two-and-a-half inches tall. And, as Castro, ABC ’10, BPM ’13, admits, building a business out of a salt cellar was tough, especially considering the fact that there are more than 550 different handcrafted salt cellars available in the online craft market Etsy right now, and that’s where he decided to market his new ware back in 2011.
But Castro’s dish was different—built from an advanced recycled concrete mixture that comes out more ceramic than sidewalk, the dish is a durable little number that prevents clumping and staining, major problems for its wooden counterparts. Within a year’s time, that little spice holder blossomed into Port Living Co., a group of four with Castro at the helm, specializing in products for the home—things like salt dishes, spice caddies, and coasters. In the company’s first year, its Culinarium brand of home products brought in $15,000 in revenue. This year, Castro’s predicting half a million—thousands in coasters alone.
But Castro hasn’t always been on the brink of such career success. After dropping out of Wentworth, he spent years working as an independent contractor—buying, renovating, and selling homes and managing rental properties. He was doing pretty well until the housing market went belly up. Castro lost nearly 30 properties in the economic downturn, including his own home. He, his wife, and his two children became the renters, and Castro reached a tipping point: “The first thing I decided to do was go back to school.” Castro headed back to Wentworth, this time to finish his degree in construction management and to pursue another in project management. He delivered pizzas and worked on getting his career back in motion by applying for product management positions.
In his downtime, he fiddled in the workshop. He made a salt cellar, “threw it up on Etsy,” and that was that. He made a few sales and made a few more items based on the products he’d like to have around him in the kitchen. “I make them for me,” he says. “They’re what I would like to use.” Before long, wholesalers and retailers were calling, national magazines wanted to feature his products, and he was bringing in employees to help him keep up with demand.
“We didn’t plan on this,” says Castro, who was recently named an “Emerging Designer” at the New York International Gift Fair. “Especially considering where we were a couple of years ago.” But he’s glad he’s right here, right now. —MAUREEN HARMON