An interview with Eudell Watts IV, owner of Old Arthur's Barbecue Products, based in Evanston.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
Evanston, Illinois (224) 287-5417 www.oldarthurs.com Owner: Eudell Watts IV
Year business started: 2010
Number of employees: 5
A: We manufacture and sell a line of barbecue sauces and seasonings based upon a set of "Legacy" recipes which were first created by my great-great grandfather as a slave, and then passed down in our family through six generations ... over 160 years!
Q: What made you start your business?
A: We have often received enthusiastic complements from acquaintances who had the opportunity to sample our flavors when we made them at home. Once they learned of the incredibly rich history behind the recipes, they were amazed that they had "tasted" a bit of history.
We first started bottling in 2010 and only sold in a hand full of retailers in Western Illinois to begin learning the market. Then we started selling in Chicago area four years ago when we debuted with our televised victory in Peapod's first gourmet food item contest, hosted by ABC-7.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: As an entrepreneur, the most challenging aspect has been finding the time to bring my vision and brand to life.
Q: What's new in your business or industry?
A: The newest trend in barbecue, like so many other facets of the culinary world, is the movement toward low -- carb. We are unintentionally blessed that our barbecue sauce is already rated as one of the lowest carb options in the sauce aisle. We also have two of our six dry rubs that are carb free.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: I love telling our story and sharing our high-quality selection of products. It is an incredible feeling to see the enjoyment on a customer's face the first time they sample our product. Their expression often gives away the fact that the flavor far exceeded what they were expecting. To hear our story of origin on top of sampling creates a very special customer bond.
Q: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: When I was a child, I wanted to work in law enforcement. I never would have imagined that I would go on to commercialize these family recipes. That happened by accident. A family friend liked it so much that he asked my father to make a him a quantity and bottle it in Mason jars. He gave it out to his business customers as Christmas gifts and that sparked the idea of selling it commercially!
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: As a start up business, my daily concern is cash flow and growth. My longer term fear is the anxiety that I am going to make a detrimental business decision in the marketplace.
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: The one tip that I would share with any new business owner is: search for mentors who can provide advice born out of experience. Find business incubators aligned to your market and which can be leveraged for ongoing education and resource. You don't have to learn everything the hard way.
Q: Who is your main influencer (Who's business philosophy or advice do you most admire or follow)?
A: The business influencer I most admire is Richard Branson. He got his start by creating his first company, a record label, in the midst of a very crowded marketplace. His differentiator was that he defined his brand as one of quality by winning over top talent, thereby putting out highly competitive products in the form of his label's music. He was unconstrained by the status quo of his market.
Q: Name one or two people you follow on social media, and why.
A: I find it important to keep up with the influencers in the lifestyle/entertaining & barbecue sectors. Rachael Ray for Lifestyle is important to help me understand where my category of barbecue fits into the bigger conversation of eating and entertaining. Following barbecue influencers like James Beard Award Winning author, Adrian Miller helps me appreciate what flavor and bbq preparation trends are gaining and declining in popularity.
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