It’s sweet, how the marshmallow-makers got their start.
Their story began when Brian Freeman, now one half of Mallow Artisan Marshmallows, walked into a friend’s birthday party.
“I thought he was kind of cute,” Kyra Freeman said.
They talked all night, but she was 20 and he was 33, and he figured he was too old for anything more. But at a second chance meeting, “she actually asked me out,” he said.
“I knew within two weeks of dating that this was the woman I wanted to marry, but I wanted to give her time. Everyone had always said, ‘You’ll just know.’ I thought, ‘Whatever — you’re just overly romantic or got really lucky — but that’s just what it was. I just knew.”
They’ve been together now for nine years and married since 2010, a computer-aided drafter and printer (her) and a data analyst and former Navy man (him) with a talent for cooking and a wife who offhandedly mentioned one day that she wished she could find chocolate-covered marshmallows in the store year-round.
Money was tight when Kyra made that comment in 2011, and her birthday was three weeks away. Brian thought the perfect marshmallow would make a romantic gift. He got a recipe and started experimenting — and experimenting some more, and some more, and some more.
“I’m a nerd, and a chemistry nerd. It was just endless obsession,” he said.
She walked in their South Lake Union apartment on her birthday and he called her into the tiny kitchen. “Wow!” she exclaimed.
That’s when they decided that fresh mallows, made without artificial ingredients or flavorings, were an entirely different species from the machine-made variety–which they describe as “sugar and lies.”
“I said, ‘Oh, we should take out cupcakes! They’ve plateaud!” Brian remembered. “It was completely tongue in cheek, but the analyst side got ahold of the idea. I thought, maybe this might actually be something.”
Renting space in a Renton commercial kitchen and coming up with snazzy packaging and flavors, they set up a sideline business together. They went for creative combinations and homemade additions like butterscotch and caramel. Friends lent ideas and taste-tests until they’d developed specialties like “French toast” and “black forest cake” and a s’mores “s’mallow’ with real graham cracker crumbs, toasted at their farmers market booth with a little butane torch. Their current pride is a marshmallow take on Bananas Foster.
“I really didn’t expect to get it right the first time. I didn’t take notes or measurements, and it was dead on the very first time. It took me seven iterations to get back to correct. We use fresh organic bananas in it, really a puree that’s been caramelized,” Brian said.
They set up a table at the Fremont Sunday market with prettily wrapped packages of their super-sized mallows. Companies and individuals started ordering from their online store (where the mallows start at $5 for a four-pack). Whole Foods in South Lake Union began carrying their line. Calling in family members, they made 6,000 mallows by hand for the Bite of Seattle, as well as working their full-time jobs.
It was an untenable workload, so, in January, Brian left his analyst job and became Mr. Mallow full-time.
“He was just running himself ragged,” Kyra recalled. “He was going to his day job and working at the kitchen from 5 p.m. until 11, midnight, for weeks and weeks and months. He started doing that to the point where I actually had to tell him to stop and sleep.”
Kyra, who still works full-time, heads to Renton after work when he needs her help with tasks like hand-cutting hundreds of plump powdered squares. On weekends, they make and sell marshmallows together.
It’s a partnership all the way.
When she met him, after all, “I think for the most part, it was finally (finding) someone I could be around where I could be me, and who would push me forward a little bit in life, being encouraging, and just — he gets me. I think I get him pretty good too,” Kyra Freeman said.
For him, it was the same.
“You’re one of the first people where I haven’t felt like I had to put on a big show, that doing the best I could in real terms was the best thing I could do,” he told her.
They won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day Thursday, except to fill orders together for the couples who crave their sweets. Instead, at the end of February, they celebrate the day that they met.
Together she said, they leapt into the opportunity “to do something we’re both passionate about.”
Photo of Brian Freeman at work by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times