For 14 years now, Owens-Illinois computer technician Steve Vaughan has spent every spare moment trying to become an overnight sensation.
“I’ve been making (barbecue) sauces for the family for 14 years. I finally turned it into a business,” said Mr. Vaughan, who with his wife, Jennifer, launched Uncle Stevie’s BBQ Sauce in January.
“It’s a very crowded field, but I think we’re unique because we’re doing real onions and real garlic instead of powdered ingredients. It does cost more, but it produces a better flavor I think,” the Dundee, Mich., resident said.
On Wednesday the Vaughans opted to see if others also will find their sauces as tasty as they do by securing a spot in the 2018 Northwest Ohio Local Food Show held at the Stranahan Theater Great Hall in Toledo.
A total of 26 vendors had booths at the sixth annual show, which is sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology.
The vendor list included eight new product makers — many of whom use the CIFT’s Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen in Bowling Green to cook — who were hoping to impress grocery distributors and retailers with the connections to turn that old family recipe into the next food success story.
Debra Holzheimer of Metro Croissants was among those new vendors. Her Cleveland-based, mom-and-pop business sells vegan friendly croissants in coffee shops and Whole Foods stores in northeast Ohio, but she bought the kitchen equipment to make more of her product.
“I’m ready to take the next step. But it’s that (distribution) hump that every small business owner meets that has stopped us,” she said.
When she heard about the food show, Ms. Holzheimer said it sounded perfect for making connections, learning tricks, and getting help to make Metro Croissants grow.
Product buyers attending the show included representatives from Walt Churchill’s Markets, Five-Star Markets, the House of Meats, Costco, and area Meijer stores.
“Meijer is always looking for good product,” Steve Krout, manager of Meijer’s Rossford store, said while tasting a cup of java from Drip Coffee of Bowling Green. “This (show) is great. I get to see what is out there,” he said, adding that the brew from Drip owner Matt Valantine was “pretty good.”
Mr. Valantine is eager to expand his coffee-roasting business beyond local book stores and doughnut shops. But Kevin Mackey, a Woodville resident and hot sauce maker, came hoping for a bit more.
“We’re ready to expand and we’re here looking to get a distributor,” said Mr. Mackey, an auto parts worker who for the last four years has made Angry Irishman Hot Sauce with his wife, Mary Ann.
Mr. Mackey’s products already are sold locally at Churchill’s, at Sautter’s Five-Star Market, and Kazmaier’s Market, but he dreams of bigger success. “That’s what we’re looking at — turning Angry Irishman into a household name,” Mr. Mackey said.
One vendor there Wednesday already is a household name.
Many eyes were fixed on the booth of Willy’s Fresh Salsa, a cooperative kitchen graduate that now has its own salsa-making operation and sells products in grocery chains in 35 states throughout the East, the South, and as far west as Idaho.
“We don’t have to be here, but you can’t forget where you came from,” said Eric Newman, Willy’s logistics manager who was there to represent the salsa company.
Willy’s is eager to share tips or knowledge with other vendors, and has extended invitations to view its operations adjacent to Toledo Express Airport., Mr. Newman said. “We still try to keep trade secrets, but we’re willing to assist anyone who asks,” he added.
Wednesday was a big success for Mr. Vaughan. His landed a deal to put his barbecue sauces in Churchill’s stores, and a buyer for Costco was interested in his products if Uncle Stevie’s can pass a few requirements.
In past years, show vendors nearly always could count on The Andersons to place product in their stores and let area consumers pass judgment with their wallets. But with The Andersons closing its stores last June, that friendly path toward success was lost this year.
“We had positive conversations with them last year — right before they decided to shut down. They were very friendly towards local companies,” said Mary Ann Mackey of Angry Irishman.
“Losing The Andersons, that was a big blow. … They’re still so respected,” said Tim Campbell of Canton, Ohio, whose Mustard Man flavored mustard has been a show staple nearly from the start.
Mr. Campbell got his product into the Columbus market via The Andersons, and the ex-retailer helped get him into Kroger Marketplace stores. “It’s funny, but I run into Andersons people now at Kroger’s and Churchill’s,” he said.
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