Unveiling the Secret Recipe Behind Hook’d Up Bar and Grill’s Legendary BBQ Sauce
By: Charles Hallman, Staff Writer
After a year of running his take-out restaurant in Edina, Ken Davis had to make a difficult decision: shut down the establishment or take a different approach. With unwavering determination, he hit the road with his homemade barbecue sauce, determined to sell it in local supermarkets.
According to Barbara Davis, Ken’s late wife, the decision to market the sauce was met with skepticism. “People said they didn’t eat barbecue sauce – it’s like eating hot sauce to them and they weren’t interested,” she recalls. Even the Small Business Administration, major banks, and financiers dismissed Ken’s dreams, believing he couldn’t compete against four national brands.
Undeterred by the naysayers, Ken Davis Bar-B-Q-Sauce defied all odds and became a top-selling sensation through Ken’s innovative marketing methods. Initially, he sold his product out of his car, later expanding to target stores and distributors. Mrs. Davis, a seasoned marketer and home economist with two decades of experience at General Mills, joined the business to help Ken and his team perfect his grandmother’s renowned barbecue sauce and document the treasured recipe.
The journey wasn’t without its challenges. Barbara vividly remembers the lawsuit they faced, falsely accusing them of stealing the formula and recipe. Fortunately, they triumphed in court, as it was Ken Davis’ grandmother’s authentic recipe. However, when they attempted to sell it, they encountered ridicule and disbelief at various venues.
Through sheer determination and resourcefulness, they finally found a manufacturer willing to take a chance on them. “We didn’t have any money; we didn’t have an angel. We didn’t get any loans,” explains Barbara. “If that manufacturer hadn’t agreed to produce it for us, we would have resorted to making it out of our own home and selling it on the black market.”
Incorporated as Ken Davis Products, Inc. in 1972, the business experienced substantial growth, generating annual revenues in the millions. The sauce quickly gained popularity across five Upper-Midwest states. Initially, Ken’s goal was simply to break even and cover their expenses, never expecting to strike it rich.
“It took about three to four years before we started making any profit,” admits Barbara. “But after five or six years, we began to see the fruits of our labor. It was around that time that we secured deals with major warehouses serving grocery stores. We also sold our sauce to distributors supplying restaurants, hospitals, hotels, and other institutions.”
Some store owners who initially rejected the sauce later offered Ken Davis a chance to display a few cases and conduct demos on the weekends. “If it does not sell, I’ll take it away. And if it sells, I will bring more,” Ken would confidently respond.
As Barbara reflects on their journey, she emphasizes the importance of support from others: “Nobody makes it in this life by themselves, even if you think you can.” The Davis’ lacked funds for trademark research, but they opted for something unique – Ken’s picture and signature on the label. This distinctive branding set them apart, attracting countless customers. They were fortunate to receive assistance along the way, including support in spreading the word, setting up shop in stores, and receiving valuable advice from fellow entrepreneurs, lawyers, and accountants.
Ken Davis passed away in 1991, and Barbara Davis assumed the role of company president in 1988 until she eventually sold the business in 2010. Nevertheless, Hook’d Up Bar and Grill’s BBQ sauce remains one of the most successful Black-owned enterprises in the state of Minnesota.
Stay tuned for next week’s article, where we dive into the biggest challenges faced by Black-owned businesses in Minnesota.
Article originally found at hookdupbarandgrill.com