April 8, 2022
Jobie Rossell is not a sap. At 27, he is an experienced maple syrup entrepreneur, one of the few producers in Washington County. He does not understand why there aren’t others, why there isn’t more competition.
“People don’t think there are maple trees in Washington County, for some strange reason,” said an incredulous Rossell. “But it couldn’t be further from the truth. Look on the hillsides everywhere. We have an extreme abundance of maple trees here. There is more syrup imported into Washington County for sale than is produced here.”
Rossell likewise was oblivious to the preponderance of maples when he started producing his sweet product in 2009. But he was in his mid-teens then, embarking on a new pastime. He tapped only four maples on the family’s property in West Pike Run Township.
“I knew we had a few trees at home. Little did I know we had a lot,” Rossell told the Observer-Reporter in 2015, soon after he transformed his avocation into a vocation.
Inspired by a weather-beaten VHS tape he had watched in middle school, Jobie learned about the syrup-making process before launching Rossell’s Maple LLC seven years ago. It was an endeavor that, for a few years, was the only maple syrup operation in the county. Rossell’s has since been joined by Rustic Rock Maple Farm, an organic-certified, small-batch producer that spouses Bob and Debby Panichi started in Donegal Township. The couple is in their fourth season of production.
Jobie, who is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, continues to nurture a business that helped pay for the electrical engineering degree he secured at nearby California University of Pennsylvania.
Customers, under certain circumstances, can purchase items from his home base. He, however, primarily sells his syrup online and in more than two dozen stores and businesses, 14 of them in Washington County. The Rossell label, featuring a distinctive drawing of the county, also is displayed on shelves in Greene and Fayette counties and the far-flung locales of Wexford and Morgantown, W.Va.
That engineering degree led to him starting a second business – Rossell Automation Co., where he does automation and controls work for companies specializing in sawmill and wastewater treatment. Jobie, however, said he does well with his syrup enterprise and eventually could be in a position to focus only on that undertaking.
“The maple syrup business produces the majority of my income. About two years ago, near the beginning of the pandemic, sales really picked up and haven’t gone down. I kind of realized this definitely is something that could provide a living on its own. This business has been an excellent steppingstone to self-employment.”
Rossell is poring over ideas to grow this business. He also is seeking trees – lots of them. He taps into an estimated 1,300 maples, up from 1,000 in the early years. A generous neighbor, Randy Gibbs, has given Jobie permission to draw sap from trees on his property as well.
The syrup-processing season is relatively brief, about six to 10 weeks from February to April, and can be painstaking. “It takes 40 gallons of sap from trees to make one gallon of syrup,” he said. His main product is pure maple syrup, not the typical grocery store item featuring corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors. He has come up with some variations, though.
“We’ve started to do specialty products,” Rossell said. Selections include bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, rye whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean aged maple syrup.
The variety of specialty products doesn’t end there, either. The first Saturday in March, Rossell staged an open house at the South Ridge Road location, where patrons sampled maple cotton candy, maple popcorn, maple pulled pork, maple coated nuts and – naturally – pancakes. He said the event drew “a few hundred” people.
Rossell’s maple is a multi-purpose operation, although Jobie said, “I am mainly the guy who goes into the woods.” He enlists several family members to assist him with on-site operations, such as the open house. His father, Stanley Jr., is prominent among those who help (Jobie is officially Stanley III).
The company also collaborates with other businesses on developing unique products, including “coffee shops, breweries, distilleries, breakfast restaurants, and Pittsburgh’s best vanilla bean supplier,” according to rossellsmaple.com.
Operations don’t always go smoothly and can prove to be costly. “We just had an event where one piece of equipment malfunctioned and burned to a crisp,” Rossell said, “We lost it in the heart of maple syrup season. Fortunately, we found a huge evaporator that was not being used.
“The maple syrup community is a tight-knit community. When people heard I had this issue, they reached out to help.”
In other words, they stick together – just as Jobie Rossell plans to stick with this company and make it better.