Ovation 2016: SPIRIT OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Naked Salsa owners Darrell and Amy Jennings.

A UCBJ Special

 

SPIRIT OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Honoring individuals who have made something from nothing, who have withstood the test of time and/or carved out a unique business model where none previously existed.

 

John Brantley.
John Brantley.

LAGNIAPPE SPICE CO. | PUTNAM COUNTY | (931) 528-6182

Lagniappe Spice Co. – pronounced lan-yap – stands for “a little something extra.” It’s certainly been an extra family effort for the Brantleys, who have taken their gourmet spice company on the road – quite literally.

“Our products are very unique,” said Amanda, who started the company in 2010 with her husband, John, who spent 17 years in the food sciences sector with Fast Food Merchandisers.

The couple, eastern North Carolina transplants, travel often to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans areas – where they fostered a love for those local flavors. Among their favorite French Market finds were spices, namely a New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. But, Amanda said, John often found it a little too spicy, so she urged him to blend his own. He did. And people seemed to respond.

“Our spices come from all over the world,” she said. “It’s been a complete and total family effort; he order spices, he blends the spices, he labels the bags, packages the product and everything…we do it and sell it.”

The Brantleys sell at farmer’s markets, festivals, barn sales and more. The approach has helped fuel growth. Sales increased a whopping 80 percent from 2014 to 2015; Lagniappe shipped roughly 10,000 pounds of spices last year. The barbecue shrimp mix, “Booyah BBQ Shrimp Seasoning,” is its best seller, but overall the company carries a 20-product line.

“You can’t go anywhere else – Kroger or any other major chain – and pick a product from the shelf that’s identical to ours,” Amanda Brantley said. “For instance, our barbeque shrimp, the one that started this whole venture, is a proprietary spice blend, and I think that’s what makes us different and sets us apart. We also believe our spices are fresher. It’s all small batch processing, so (John’s) maybe doing 25-50 pounds of a product at a time. We wanted people to feel like they’re getting a great product with a unique taste and they’re getting a good value for their money,” she added.

In the future, Brantley says they’ll focus on garnering a larger wholesale customer base. Locally, you can find them at stores like IGA in Cookeville, the Market on the Square, Blue House Primitives and IWC Cash & Carry; the entire product line is also available online.

“This has definitely become a thriving little enterprise for our family,” she said. “For people, it’s sort of like tasting is believing.”

 

Fitzgerald Glider Kits.
Fitzgerald Glider Kits.

FITZGERALD GLIDER KITS | FENTRESS/PICKETT/CUMBERLAND COUNTY | 1225 LIVINGSTON HIGHWAY, BYRDSTOWN | (888) 245-8121

Fitzgerald Glider Kits was built on a passion for big trucks. It’s certainly a process to build a glider – or a new truck minus its engine and transmission – but it’s an enterprise that’s seen substantial growth over the last few years.

The manufacturing process starts with an off-the-line Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner or Western Star truck. Old engines are purchased, disassembled, rebuilt and installed. That means for trucks that are not only cheaper for the customer, but that realize better fuel mileage, too.

Fitzgerald today operates out of an 110,000-square-foot building on 31 acres in Byrdstown – an increasingly visible footprint – and recently moved all Freightliner builds to a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Jamestown. The company also spiced things up earlier this year, sponsoring the No. 22 Ford Mustang in select 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) races.

“The family and I have always been huge fans of NASCAR, and it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to see our family name on the side of one of these amazing machines,” Tommy Fitzgerald Sr., company founder, said.

 

Naked Salsa owners Darrell and Amy Jennings.
Naked Salsa owners Darrell and Amy Jennings.

NAKED SALSA | PUTNAM COUNTY | 569 W Broad St. Cookeville (931) 854-0755

It started off as a hobby. But nearly five years in, husband-and-wife duo Darrell and Amy Jennings say their aspiring business – based on their homemade, signature salsa – could someday spring nationwide.

Naked Salsa, which was officially born in 2011, is enjoying positive momentum backed by a creative slogan, “get naked.” (the salsa is made with all natural ingredients, no preservatives). It’s sold in nearly a dozen regional stores in the Upper Cumberland. First quarter sales were up 180 percent over last year. And if plans pan out to acquire a refrigerated truck, which would help the company expand its distribution reach, the pair says they can easily see it taking off statewide – and beyond.

It’s a far cry from their early days, when the Jennings would make up a batch of salsa, text a few hundred friends, and hawk the containers via the back of their Suburban at Kmart and Kroger parking lots.

“We laugh and joke about that, but it is really fun how it all began,” Darrell said. “People would drive up, literally hand money out their car window, we’d hand them a bag with their salsa in it, and they would drive off.”

Today, Naked Salsa is sold in nine stores overall in the greater Putnam County region, and the Jennings say they’re near a deal to add roughly half a dozen more. Best sellers include Medium and Amy’s Blend, which is “sweet in the beginning” but, without warning, “delivers a swift kick of habanero right where it counts.” Their newest flavor, Sweet Zen, took first place in a recent regional salsa competition.

“We’re building it smart,” Darrell said. “It’s not that we’ve held it back, but we don’t want grow too fast based on our own ability to keep up with demand. Ultimately, our goal is for everybody in America to ‘get naked.’ That’s down the road, but it is foreseeable. We’d love to see it go that far, not because of riches and fame, but there’s a lot of people who just love the product.”

 

GROUND UP RECYCLING | PUTNAM COUNTY | 3610 Dacco Quarry Road, Cookeville (888) 758-4577

Ovation Award winners always boast about being unique, and Matt Allen’s business certainly qualifies for that designation. After 15 years in the roofing market, he saw a tremendous amount of waste bound for landfills. There had to be a better way, he said.

It’s Ground Up Recycling’s goal to keep shingles from the dump – and to do that – the company recycles those products for use in Tennessee’s roadways.

“We are seeing great results statewide,” he said.

 

SEE THE REST: Ovations 2016

Favorite Restaurant

Best Individual Citizen/Excellence in Business Leadership

Excellence in Manufacturing

Excellence in Tourism Promotion

Favorite Retail Establishment

Excellence in Professional Services

 

Liz Engel is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at liz@ucbjournal.com