Flavor-making is the spice of life for Cookeville entrepreneurs
Part of running a successful small business is knowing how to focus your energies where they’ll do the most good.
For Putnam County taste-creators John and Amanda Brantley, that means concentrating on the two aspects of their business they love most — the making and the marketing of their highly palatable spice-package products.
The Brantleys specialize in concocting a variety of culinary enhancement delights. They share an appetizing talent for mixing up flavor-packed batches of meat rubs, cooking-spice blends and other multi-purpose chow seasonings.
Among their best-selling grill-mates for making mouthwatering flesh and fish dishes are products with names like Dixieland Steak Seasoning, Bodacious Blackened Seasoning, Booyah BBQ Shrimp Seasoning and Caribbean Citrus Seasoning.
Other products they prepare and sell include peppery-taste-laced jellies and jams, kits for supercharging stone-ground grits, and a line of gourmet cocoa mixes irresistibly infused with mood-warming essences like hazelnut, raspberry, peppermint and mocha.
The Brantleys founded their business in 2010, with the idea of sharing their shared fondness for down-home cooking and Southern food culture — especially New Orleans flavors.
They sell their products through a pair of homegrown companies — The Lagniappe Spice Company and the Tennessee Spice Company. “Lagniappe” is a Louisiana Creole French word that means “a little something extra,” or “an extra blessing.”
“Our custom blends are rooted in our Southern heritage and are sure to enhance your favorite recipes, and hopefully, a few new ones,” their website declares.
Blessings of Being a Small Business
For the Brantleys, living up to their company name means striving for “a little better quality and more product in a bag,” and both at a price that’s affordable to anybody who wants to add some zest to their kitchen cuisine repertoire and pizzazz to their backyard barbecue proficiency.
John said their adventure in commercial spice-making all began when he discovered a particularly savory Big Easy-style seasoning blend that he truly relished, but couldn’t get past the fact that it was a little on the bold side. “It was just too hot to eat in any quantity,” he said.
So he decided to improve upon it by dialing down the heat a bit in order to make it a little more accessible to palates unaccustomed to blistering levels of capsaicin-saturation. The result was a blend that was so popular with his friends that he had trouble keeping it on hand. So he decided to go into the business of making it for profit.
“That’s kind of how we got started,” John said.
“And here we are, 20-plus products later,” added Amanda.
Nowadays, friends and customers often tell John and Amanda they ought to open their own store or restaurant. But the Brantleys say they’re pretty sure that would cut into the fun factor of what they do — and cause unnecessary headaches
“We don’t have a lot of interest in running our own storefront,” said Amanda. “If people can sell it for us and customers see us enough locally, and they know where they can get our products, then that works just fine for us.”
John says one reason he’s an entrepreneur rather than a clock-puncher for someone else is that he gets to organize day-to-day production activities and business operations so as to avoid otherwise avoidable headaches.
“I really like flexibility,” said John, who spent two decades working as a quality-control and research development scientist in the commercial food-manufacturing industry.
Lagniappe Spice Company and Tennessee Spice Company are available direct-to-customer online and at a range of local and regional grocery stores and local-products boutiques.
“Our stuff is carried from time to time in places like Opryland,” said Amanda. “There’s a growing demand for ‘Made in Tennessee’ labeling in tourist-destination spots.”
She said the state Department of Agriculture’s “Pick Tennessee” program has been a good boost for their business — although she’d like to see more PickTN-focused shows and events around the state to promote Tennessee-based products to other Tennesseans.
Home Cooking at Home Shows
John, who helps plan the Upper Cumberland Home and Garden Show’s kitchen demonstration lineup, said he’s particularly fond of participating in trade shows and lifestyle expos.
There he and his wife get to meet not just large numbers of people in short periods of time, but also come in friendly contact with people who might never come across their products otherwise — and who may, as a result of sampling a succulent morsel of John and Amanda’s handiwork, become regular customers.
John especially enjoys conducting demonstrations on “doing something a little different” in the kitchen that people maybe haven’t seen before — like fashioning a meat or seafood glaze out of Lagniappe’s spiced jams or jellies.
“He’s cooked pork tenderloins and steaks before. People alway seem to like that,” said Amanda.
At the Wilson County Southern Home & Garden Expo in February, John gave a lesson on how to whip up a savory shrimp dip guaranteed to please at any party.
John said the culinary demonstration aspect of the Upper Cumberland Home and Garden Show has really come into its own the past few years as Cookeville and the surrounding region continue to draw in skilled chefs and food-and-beverage entrepreneurs.
“It’s nice to be able to showcase local talent,” he said. “Cookeville is becoming a great place for really good food.”