23 February 2024

How a family's love for food lasting generations led to the creation of Berry's iconic Treat Factory

| Keeli Royle
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Karin and Leon Maxwell at The Treat Factory in Berry.

Karin and Leon Maxwell have brought generations of recipes to the Berry community while also creating their own. Photo: The Treat Factory.

The Treat Factory in Berry has been a must-stop shop for tourists and locals looking to get a sweet fix for decades, but the legacy of the family-run business actually spans generations, with recipes handed down as new ideas are created.

Since she was young, food and flavours have been an important part of Karin Maxwell’s life and have bound her family together.

“We had it in so many generations and had grown up talking about it around the dinner table and so it just went on to the next generation,” Karin said.

“Even my children now are the same – they both love cooking and food and flavours and we’re always saying, ‘It would be nice if we did this’ and so we like to experiment with food.”

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Her grandfather, Arthur Nance-Kivell, had already found success in the hospitality industry when he decided to take a risk in the 1940s and created the Illawarra Jam Company.

“I think he loved the challenge; he was a real daredevil,” Karin said.

The business continued to grow after it relocated to Sydney and it was even the source of the filling for Arnott’s famous Monte Carlo biscuits.

“It was like a raspberry filling and that came about because my grandfather used to mainly deliver a lot to pastry chefs and they would ask for a lemon filling or an orange filling or something like this and then they would adapt a recipe to suit their needs,” Karin said.

Arthur Nance-Kivell (Left) and Harold and Thelma Nance-Kivell.

Arthur Nance-Kivell (left) created the Illawarra Jam Factory before passing it on to Harold and Thelma Nance-Kivell (right). Photo: The Treat Factory.

The factory was then managed by Arthur’s son, Harold, and was later bought out by Arnott’s who wanted to use it exclusively for the biscuit filling.

With a plan to retire, Harold set south to Berry, but was unable to escape the ongoing desire for specialty batches and delicious condiments which were being craved by his new community.

As demand continued to grow again, Harold’s daughter Karin and her husband Leon decided to open The Berry Treat Factory, with their young family in tow, just to see what it could become.

“We just did things in a very practical way so that we just grew slowly and we didn’t have a lot of financial outlays,” Karin said.

“And what happened was our customers kept coming back.”

The recipes used to create their popular jams came from Harold’s old black book with typed instructions, and family creations like the Mustard Pickle which was made by Karin’s now 96-year-old mother, Thelma.

“Every time I go to visit her she still talks about it,” Karin said.

“I went to visit her yesterday and she said, ‘Whatever you do don’t change that recipe, never change that recipe.

“It is very popular, and people have grown up with it.”

Karin Maxwell and Sarah Lewis.

Karin Maxwell and daughter Sarah Lewis. Photo: Keeli Royle.

But while the Maxwells are sharing their own family history, Karin’s daughter Sarah Lewis said it also allowed them to gain insight into other family recipes in the community.

“I think a lot of people like coming in and sharing with us more than the other way round in a lot of ways,” Sarah said.

“You always get a few stories, you always get people reminiscing and they always have a little chuckle because they remember their mums or their grandmothers being the best, so it’s always like – is ours up to scratch?

“That’s the big test, is it as good as grandma used to make?”

In addition to the iconic condiments, the Treat Factory has also become known for its delicious treats, with Leon going to chocolate school to perfect the craft and introduce the new addition to their elaborate collection of offerings.

“We thought we needed something a bit more,” Karin said. “My mother was making marshmallow at this stage and she was already selling it to a boutique shop over in Bowral and it was going really well.

“And so we thought maybe we should do some confectionaries and thought chocolate would be really good.

“We thought it was a good complement to have… and when we started up here we became more known as the confectionary and chocolate place than what we did for preserves.”

Harold Nance-Kivell's book of recipes.

Even though recipes are now digitised, the Maxwells still have Harold’s original typed out book of creations. Photo: Keeli Royle.

And new items are constantly being created, with the community playing an important role in new products, whether it be providing local produce or interesting inspiration.

“The customers always give you good ideas too; I had someone come in the other day and ask for a pineapple and rum jam,” Sarah said. “We’ve got banana rum, we’ve got pineapple tequila, all these different things but no pineapple rum and thought that would be good.”

But even when the new ideas come flowing in, the originals are never forgotten.

“We just keep adding and experimenting and playing,” Sarah said. “Nothing seems to disappear.

“The moment we try to delete something someone comes in and asks for it so back it comes again.”

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The team is also growing along with the products, with the inclusion of The Dairy Bar and gelato in 2016, and now the pastry chef training up an apprentice for the first time.

And with more family members rejoining to carry on the business and help bring new ideas, the Maxwells are carrying on a long-standing legacy created by Arthur.

“I think he would be very very pleased,” Karin said.

“I know my father was absolutely amazed … he was just amazed that we did it and how popular it became.

“And my mother still says, ‘Who would have ever believed?'”

To find out more visit the Treat Factory website.

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