Struggling to stay afloat as the economy teetered, Alexa Lemley and Samantha Aulick began selling their personal possessions in order to keep their catering company alive.
The couple took to the streets, going door to door with marshmallows they developed to give out with menus in an effort to boost business.
“It worked! People started asking to buy the puffs,” Aulick told 429Magazine.
As a result, 240 Sweet was born.
“Sweet is what we make,” Aulick said. “It made good sense when we came up with it. Plus, the domain name was available.”
From there, Lemley and Aulick began selling their marshmallows on consignment to local stores, and then at farmer’s markets, and shortly after, they were awarded the title, “Indiana Artisan,” which Aulick describes as the highlight of their careers.
“When Alexa was named an Indiana Artisan, it was great both for the personal validation of what we were doing and the prestige/recognition of the award,” Aulick said.
“When we started making artisan marshmallows, no one understood until they tasted them. People thought that it was a weird thing.”
Offering a fresh take on the underappreciated confection, Lemley developed new flavors based on foods they were craving, but couldn’t afford to go out and eat. Now, through their success, Lemley is able to create solely on inspiration.
“Whenever we travel, we must try the local flavor of foods,” Aulick said.
“Many times, that ends up in our marshmallows.”
For instance, a trip to Maine resulted in a blueberry with cajeta swirl marshmallow as inspired by a goat farm they visited, and a blueberry pie they bought in Bar Harbor.
240 Sweet garnered so much interest that Lemley maintained three stints at the Indiana State Museum as the Artist In Residence, doing demonstrations on the art of making marshmallows.
This month, with their studio being overrun by an overwhelming demand to see Lemley at work, the pair decided to launch 240 Sweet Artisan Foodworks, with a larger location for visitors to come watch marshmallow demonstrations.
“Making marshmallows from scratch is like painting your dorm room in college,” said Aulick.
“Anyone can do it. However, doing it well consistently to sell is a whole different thing.”
Lemley began with a traditional homemade vanilla marshmallow recipe, and has evolved to develop her own—without flavorings. She takes into account the sweetness of fruit she uses with each batch. Additionally, new flavors are fashioned regularly.
Her most recent creation is a durian marshmallow, with which she consulted with her staff in Malaysia before its launch.
“Like a painter works best with good paint, she needs quality ingredients as a base,” Aulick explains about chef Lemley.
The couples met as teenagers in 1989 and describe it as “love at first sight.” They were inseparable for two years until Aulick left for college. However, the two reconnected and are once again indivisible.
“Alexa and I make each other better people,” Aulick explained. “We push each other to be more creative, pick each other up when we stumble, and interact constantly.”
Through their trials, they have come to truly appreciate having the “chance to be creative and make [their]own rules,” despite the vast amount of hours they work.
Still, they are able to stay involved in the LGBT community sponsoring the local Inclusive Community Coalition to make their town “a more welcoming place.” They also make it a point to hire and mentor gay youth, and are active in the Southern Indiana Women’s Group through which they host Ladies’ Nights in their 240 Sweet studio with themes such as “Candy Making Party” to “Game Night.”
“Attendees range from 15 to 65,” Aulick said. “As we live in small “city” of 40,000, there aren’t a lot of options like a community center or gay bars.”
Ultimately, Lemley and Aulick want to change how people perceive and interact with their food.
“We believe that consistency should include a range—not an exact match,” Aulick explained.
“Chicken nuggets all taste alike because they are so processed as to not be food. Each marshmallow that we make has a different texture and size because real food has some variation.”
She goes on to explain that another purpose of their studio is to educate people on this. Accordingly, they dream to host a food show—an “entertaining and educational experience to connect people with how real food tastes and is made.” Their goal is to introduce people to real food.
“Making food is an art, not a science experiment.”