After Charlynda Scales’ grandfather, Charlie Ferrell, Jr., passed away in 2005, she honored the Vietnam and Korean War veteran’s memory by serving in the U.S. Air Force. Eight years later, she’d honor him again by launching Mutt’s Sauce, LLC.
She started the business in 2013 when her mother handed her the secret family recipe that had been locked in a safe for years. Ferrell, whose military nickname was “The Mutt” for “his ability to blend in with all types of cultures and make friends with anyone,” created the sauce in 1956 when he was deployed to Japan. While there, he and his family hosted many dinners for troops stationed in East Asia. According to family lore, his sweet and peppery tomato-based sauce was the highlight of parties, bringing military families of all backgrounds together during the 1950s. “It was never a business, he would just make it for friends and family,” said Scales. “He’d give them as gifts to break the ice with whoever he met at military parties or cookouts in his hometown of Cookeville, Tennessee.”
Ferrell created the multipurpose sauce because he wanted to declutter his refrigerator and rely on one bottle to flavor every meal. It would take his granddaughter multiple tries to recreate the original recipe. She used $15,000 in savings to hire a manufacturer operated by an Amish family in Chillicothe, Ohio. With their home-cooking techniques and equipment, they managed to replicate the sauce in large batches. “They literally hand-poured the sauce into 700 bottles,” says Scales, who took them door-to-door to mom-and-pop groceries and farmers’ markets. At $5 a bottle, Mutt’s Sauce sold out within its first week.
She was eager to increase output and lower prices to compete with other condiments. But she had to find a larger manufacturer that she could afford and that would be able to maintain the same tanginess while producing mass quantities. “We want the sauce to be used by everyday families. We don’t want to be too high-end,” says Scales.
In 2016 she attended a military conference in Dallas where she learned of the Heroes to CEOs grant contest run by Bob Evans Foods, which produces and distributes frozen foods and side dishes. Candidates had to submit a video and story about their business’s military or veteran roots in order to win a $25,000 grant.
Mike Townsley, CEO of Bob Evans Foods, says this program is one way to carry on the spirit of Bob Evans, the company’s late founder. “He had a soft spot for the military and veterans because he served in the Army,” said Townsley.
The company has kicked off its second annual Heroes to CEOs contest. In addition to the grant, three finalists win a trip to New York City where they will receive mentoring from BEF executives and a half-day coaching session with Shark Tank judge Daymond John. “He’s equipped to teach them ways to gain momentum that are unique to an entrepreneur,” says Townsley. “It’s so much more different starting a small business wearing many hats, versus a large corporation that I run.”
According to John, all military and veteran business owners should act like supportive partners: “Their biggest asset is a large network of other men and women who they’ve served with. Tap this core group and symbiotically learn from them and serve them.”
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