Sweet! Cal U student launches maple syrup business

ZACH FILTZ, Contributor

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    Steve Cox, who is the owner of Cox Market in Monongahela, said that Jobie Rossell is not your average college student. As a full-time student with a double major, Rossell has a business of producing pure maple syrup.

  Rossell does business with a few grocery stores around the Mon Valley area. Cox Market, a grocery store specializing in some natural foods as well as groceries purchased from local businesses rather than corporate vendors, is one of the larger vendors that Rossell sells his syrup to.

    “He approached me and kindly asked if he could sell his maple syrup,” Cox said. “He was in high school at the time, a kid of around 16. I said we could do a trial run, and today it is the only [natural] real maple syrup product that I carry,” Cox said. “That was five years ago, and his product continues to impress customers.”

   Cox said that evidence of this can be attributed to increasing monthly sales of Rossell’s syrup.

  Rossell, 20, is a sophomore Cal U student and is also a Coal Center native.  He majors in electrical engineering technology and business administration at Cal U. However, unlike other students, he also owns and operates a full-time maple syrup business while going to Cal U. That business is Rossell’s Maple Syrup, of which he boils, converts, bottles, and sells from his own backyard. Rossell has done this for approximately five to six years, although it “really got a stronger launch in 2011,” Rossell said.

    “He’s a very focused young man,” Cox said. “A person entering the business world needs to know how to ask the right questions, and Jobie did ask them.”

    Cox said that it is pure Grade A maple syrup, and currently is the only pure maple syrup product that he carries at his store.

     “[Rossell is] constantly trying new ideas for products,” Cox said via telephone. Cox said that Rossell is even looking into appealing to a higher socioeconomic customer level by offering syrup in glass jars instead of the current plastic bottle setup. “It will do well for his sales, and I am looking forward to see how my store’s customers will like it [new glass jars] as well,” Cox said.

    Moe Galis, 55, said he has known Rossell since he was a young boy of 10. Galis is a neighbor of Rossell and an entrepreneur of a wood pellet factory.

  “He came up to my front door and offered me homemade root beer,” Galis said. “I tried it, and his drink left an impression on me.”

   “It was at that moment that I knew I had a future entrepreneur on my doorstep,” Galis said.

   That was not the only time Galis was impressed by Rossell.

   “He has been cutting all of my grass since he was a young teenager, every summer,” Galis said. Galis owns many acres of land on his property in Coal Center.

   In addition to his business spirit, Galis said that Rossell also developed some technical abilities at a young age.

   Galis said that his family owns some camping property in Confluence, a camping area near Mt. Pleasant. He said that Rossell was a 15-year-old electrician of the camp, and that whenever there were electrical problems that occurred, he showed up and fixed the problem, often times without cost.

    “Jobie is an avid hunter, although he never lets that get in the way of his business or his studies,” Galis said.

    Rossell has not only impressed his business-minded neighbor and grocery store vendor, but also some of his teachers and Cal U professors, in the past as well as the present.

    “Sometimes it would appear that he was not paying attention during class, but he would ask me questions about it after class,” Dave Lowden, 44, said. Lowden was Rossell’s chemistry teacher during his high school years at California Area High School. “Then he would ask me about how he could grow his new business into something more profitable.”

    Despite being his teacher, Lowden also allowed Rossell to work on his farm that he owns near California. “He was never late, and he had a very strong work ethic,” Lowden said. “He wouldn’t even stop to get a drink of water.”

   Lowden said that Rossell worked on a hay square bailer, a machine that places large amounts of hay into a square bail. He said that Rossell enjoyed being able to fix some of the mechanical parts of the bailer when one of the moving parts would go wrong.

     Lowden also said that Rossell “was always hustling to make a buck.”

      Edmund Matecki, a professor of economics at Cal U, said that Rossell is very bright.

   “When discussing the concept of supply and demand, Jobie made his presence in the classroom known,” Matecki said. “He had a connection to it, and he understood the concepts presented very well,” Matecki said.

    Mark Krueger, 50, an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Cal U, was also impressed by Rossell’s demeanor.

   Krueger, who teaches him electrical circuits, said he thinks Rossell uses the electrical knowledge to benefit his knowledge for his maple syrup business.

It all started with one tree tapped with a sap tap before he entered high school, and the business grew from there, according to Rossell.

   “The first year I tapped, I only made around 40 gallons of syrup,” Rossell said. “It was an honest start in comparison to the bigger numbers I am looking at today.”

       That is in comparison to the approximate production number of 250 gallons he made last year, according to Rossell. The numbers for his current fiscal year may be closer to 300 gallons, he said.

     “It’s not an easy job, sometimes a lot of labor until the late evening,” he said. “But I have found a way to work a little less [25-30 hours] than what I did before.” He said that he used to put more than 40 hours per week into his business, sometimes closer to 50 hours.

    Rossell said that he learned some of these skills when he was a young man working in the Boy Scouts of America.

    “We learned how to renovate an old chapel not far from here [on Route 481],” Rossell said. “There were several hundred hours that we put into that, and I learned what comes from the patience of hard work and long hours.”

  When asked if he has ever taken a day off of maintaining his business, Rossell answers “not really.”

Rossell is fully legal and a registered business within the United States Department of Agriculture, and is also part of the PA Preferred Program.

   If the school year is not in session, he enjoys the occasional ride on his road bike to maintain physical fitness, according to Rossell.

  Moe Galis and Steve Cox both said that they both see Rossell doing something involving his work ethic, working for himself, and possibly something involving his technical knowledge through electricity.

   “I will always have some type of business,” Rossell said. “It’s part of my personality as well as my passion.”

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