Quality, taste and good price are essential to us.
It all started by a happy encounter…
It is the way caramel should taste!
We love to be part of a generous and happy community.
At Le Caramel, we believe that natural, local and simple ingredients are the key to great products. Since 2009, we have been cooking each batch of caramel, meticulously following the recipes
handed down to us by the best
French caramel maker.
We are FDA registered, third party audit compliant and Kosher certified. We also manufacture an organic caramel line and use GMO free ingredients.
We are open to contract packaging, private label and product development for your caramel production. Wholesale is also available. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 562-0713 to discuss with us your caramel needs!
First meeting with Mr Palix, creator of Le Caramel recipes.
Training year for Christen and Vincent, the owners of Le Caramel, to master the caramel “know-how”.
Le Caramel is created in Santee, CA, and the first pound of caramel cream is cooked.
Le Caramel’s family widens! The first employee is hired and the first bag of caramel candies is cooked.
Le Caramel begin its partnership with the Autism Tree Project Foundation (learn more in “Our commitment” or visit ATPF website).
As the little business has grown considerably, Le Caramel moves from Santee, CA, to El Cajon, CA, in a bigger factory and hires one more cook. Le Caramel begins to work with Partnerships With Industry (learn more in “Our commitment” or visit PWI website PWI website ).
Le Caramel’s happy family consists now:
Christen and Vincent
The PWI team
And of course Maurice, #1 fan of Le Caramel
Grand Opening of Le Caramel’s factory boutique and many other awesome projects to come!
Creams: With their rich and smooth texture, drizzle one of our delicious cream over your favorite dessert: from ice cream to apples, to pancakes… The possibilities are endless!
Candies: It’s the classic way to enjoy caramel: unwrap and let the caramel slowly melt in your mouth to reveal its wonderful taste.
“Le Caramel has given us the opportunity to stand for causes that we care for. We have been working for 3 years now with two amazing organizations:
- Partnerships With Industry, which allows adults with disabilities to work for San Diegan companies. One of their teams works with us and is an essential part of our team.
- The Autism Tree Project Foundation, which helps families impacted by autism. Their main goal is to screen as many children as possible free of charge in the San Diego Area. Early intervention in autism is key and you can really change people’s life. By purchasing one of our Autism Sea Salt Caramel Candies, you support ATPF.
As parents, we know how important healthy habits are. In order to transfer our love of good food, we often welcome classes or scout troops in our factory for visits. We also love to take part in educational activities about good eating habits.
Every day, we feel so lucky to be here in San Diego with two wonderful kids, working in our factory with a great team, cooking products we love and helping our community through different ways. This is the life we had dreamed of.”
A caramel factory and store that helps two local organizations will hold a grand opening Friday in El Cajon.
Le Caramel, which has its roots in France, will have festivities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its new factory boutique at 1725 Gillespie Way, Suite 105. It will hold factory visits at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The business is owned and operated by Christen and Vincent Kugener. They learned the how to make caramel from Daniel Palix, one of the top caramel makers in France, while the couple lived in the country in 2008.
They moved to San Diego County the next year and set up a caramel factory in Santee to sell to professionals in the food industry. In 2014, Le Caramel moved to a larger factory in El Cajon, and now will open a factory boutique.
The business collaborates with the Autism Tree Project Foundation that assists with early screening for autism and intervention. Sales of the company’s Autism Sea Salt Caramel Candies help support the organization. Le Caramel also employs workers through Partnerships with Industry, which finds jobs for people with developmental and other disabilities.
The Kugeners live in La Mesa with their son, 7, and daughter, 5.
For more information call (619) 562-0713 or go to le-caramel.com
All the recent rain and cold nights give people a sweet tooth. While chocolate is a must-have, caramel is a close second for its creamy, rich tones bringing back childhood memories. Le Caramel in El Cajon satisfies that craving with their creation of
candies, sauces and other products.
Vincent and Christen Kugener are at the helm of Le Caramel, which maintains the tradition of caramel making from the South of France.
Before the Kugeners moved to the U.S., they worked in the finance industry in Luxembourg, saving money to pursue their dream of making caramels. It all started with the chance encounter of someone who walked into the office of her father, who was a doctor.
The patient was the number one caramel maker in France who had just retired. “He wanted to hand out his recipes to young people to keep his caramel going. Vincent met him and they hit it off,” said Christen Kugener.
For a year the Kugeners toured France and learned how to make the caramel. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the Kugeners decided to move to the U.S. They imported the caramel-making machines from France and set up shop in Santee five years ago.
“Last year Le Caramel made 500,000 pounds of caramel. We decided we really needed to move because we were literally bursting at the seams,” Christen Kugener said. Now they are thrilled with their new site in El Cajon, which is five times bigger than the former place in Santee. “It is clean and new, has washable floors and walls, and all of the dish-washing facilities we need,” said Christen Kugener.
In the front lobby of Le Caramel is a large mural, painted by Christen’s mother, of a man knee-high in water, raking salt from the Salins de Giraud in the South of France. “This is how the people got salt from the sea for caramel-making in the South of France,” said Vincent Kugener. “It was brutal, hard work, very demanding. Now they have machines to do the bulk of the work. But you will still find men in the water raking up the top layer of the salt,” he said. Sea salt caramel has been a centuries-old tradition in French confections. “Sea salt adds the depth of flavor to caramel,” he said.
Until just a few years ago, the general public in the United States was not even familiar with Sea Salt Caramel. Then Starbucks put it on their menu of coffee drinks. “Starbucks revolutionized coffee for people 15 or 20 years ago. They did the same for Sea Salt Caramel. And now people love it,” he said.
What makes Le Caramel stand out from other caramel confectioners, the Kugeners say, is the basic ingredients: sugar, butter and cream. “Caramel is basically burnt sugar. You cook the sugar until it caramelizes. There is no need to go fancy to get a good caramel,” he said.
Christen walked over to chat with Chris Gaede who was standing over a large kettle of sugar, butter and cream. He waited for the mixture to reach just the right temperature to start vigorously stirring it. “The longer you cook it, the stronger the taste,” he said. In the next room was Gaede, guiding a rope of newly made caramel through a machine with wheels and swivels. He then moved the rope of caramel to another machine that sliced and wrapped the candy. Employee Garrett Michaud picked up the tray of wrapped caramels. He worked with Tina Tasle and Alyssa Andreorio. “We have to make sure the wrappers are tight enough on the caramel, giving an extra twist at the end if necessary. And if the caramels have any dents or imperfections, we throw them out,” Michaud said. “Or eat them,” Tasle said, grinning.
“Our products are tried and true. We don’t play with chemicals and sugar is our number one ingredient,” Christen Kugener said. Because both Christen and Vincent Kugener grew up in France, caramel has always tasted the way they prepare it at Le Caramel. “We never had flavored corn syrup that passes as caramel,” Christen Kugener explained.
A typical day at Le Caramel for the 10 employees involves cooking and packaging. Christen Kugener is in charge of marketing, sales and personnel while Vincent oversees quality and production.
The Kugeners have collaborated with Partnerships with Industry. The organization provided Le Caramel with a team of three adults with disabilities who do the packaging of the products as well as the janitorial of the factory. “We couldn’t do what we need to without them,” she said.
Le Caramel has also developed a caramel line benefitting Autism Tree Project Foundation, committed to screening as many kids as possible for autism syndrome so that children can access early intervention.
The Kugeners have developed new flavors and products, including chocolate cream and a pumpkin caramel cream. Their newest product to be tested is a caramel sauce to be pumped into gourmet coffee drinks. In early January, the Kugeners will attend a Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.
“Our booth will be right next to a guy who has a coffee product. We will probably be doing business with him,” Christen Kugener said.
To shop online, go to www.le-caramel.com.
It was a pretty hectic day last week at Le Caramel, the El Cajon maker of caramel candies and products, as owners Vincent and Christen Kugener showed off their new boutique store and gave tours to dozens of visitors eager
to learn more about this delectable creation.
“Making caramel is very precise and you can’t mess it up,” Christen Kugener told a group of visitors. “It all has to be made at a certain temperature.” The Kugeners’ strict adherence to quality and natural ingredients has set the business on a nice growth trend, especially since moving two years ago from Santee to El Cajon, in the shadow of Gillespie Field. “We had been looking for a bigger building for quite a long time, and we hadn’t found anything, said Vincent Kugener about a small space on Woodside Avenue in Santee. “We came to this one by accident, but when I saw it, I knew this was going to work.” The 7,000 square feet more than doubles its capacity and helped expand production. Today, the company has 13 employees, up from the seven it had about a year ago. Sales last year hit $2 million, compared to $1.6 million in 2014, he said.
The great bulk of Le Caramel’s approximately 100 customers are much larger food companies, he said. “Our caramel is in a lot of granola bars, nutrition bars, and anything that uses natural caramel,” he said. The company makes the pure caramel sauces for some of the nation’s largest food companies who put their own private labels on it, he said. “When you go to the store and see caramel ice cream sauce topping on the shelf, that could be ours,” he said. Christen said these larger food processors cannot replicate the exacting methods required to make real caramel. Specifically, they are processing food in such large amounts and in vast vats, they cannot get the temperature to stay above 300 degrees, essential to burning the sugar, the only ingredient in caramel besides water, said Christen Kugener. To ensure the proper temperatures are reached, and things are done to the highest standards, the couple imported stoves from France, and a “cut and wrap” machine from Germany that converts a “rope” of caramel into small wrapped candies they call “chews.”
The Kugeners met while they were both working for a major bank, Fortis, in Luxembourg, but when the financial crisis of 2007-08 hit, their lives, along with most of the rest of the planet, were turned upside down. They quit their jobs, and embarked on a new journey that brought them to the United States.
Through Christen’s father, a doctor, they met a man who had recently retired as one of the biggest and most reputable caramel makers in France. Daniel Palix was seeking to impart his expertise and recipes to someone younger who could carry on his craft, and the couple was eager for a change, Vincent said. “The next year we spent traveling in France, visiting all these caramel shops and learning all about making caramel,” he said. Once educated, the Kugeners immigrated here because Christen’s mother, Susan Bernabe, grew up in Lemon Grove, and it is where Christen spent her summers when she was a young child. She said her mom married a French exchange student who she met at Mount Miguel High School. Bernabe painted a mural that now hangs in the business, as well as creating all the graphic art for labels and other material.
Despite the U.S. connections, Christen said it was not easy getting the new business going. This was their first venture, and they had no network. Finding customers was hard because “most people don’t even want to listen to you at first,” she said. “Everything was new, but we managed to find some great people who surrounded us early on (including Dick Buxton from Specialty Metals, who sublet his space),” she said. As the business gained traction, the owners have given back to their community by working with two nonprofit organizations. Through Partnerships with Industry, they have hired three employees with disabilities. They also donated a percentage of one product’s sales to the Autism Tree Project Foundation, which provides early screening of children to check for autism.
Things are definitely on the upswing for Le Caramel. More food companies are abandoning artificial caramel flavoring and shifting to using naturally made caramel in their products, he said. There is a growing trend in companies doing private label candies and syrups that is right up their alley, he added. And the new boutique store is certain to help boost the popularity of traditional French caramel made right here in East County.
“We want to be keep making good caramel at an affordable price,” Christen Kugener said. “We really are proud of our product and want everyone to be able to enjoy it.”