Barhyte Specialty Foods’ success


1111_Tactics_01Chris Barhyte keeps a stack of unopened letters in his offices from would-be buyers of the family business. “I don’t even open them any more,” he says. “I’m just not interested in selling. I’d probably have to put on a suit.”

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By Ben Jacklet

 

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// Photos by Adam Bacher
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Chris Barhyte keeps a stack of unopened letters in his offices from would-be buyers of the family business. “I don’t even open them any more,” he says. “I’m just not interested in selling. I’d probably have to put on a suit.”

Barhyte is wearing shorts and flip-flops at the Tualatin sales office of Barhyte Specialty Foods, which he has built from a literal mom-and-pop shop into a 52-employee operation generating more than $10 million in annual sales and continuing to expand through the recession. He did so by becoming the boss of his parents, Jan and Suzie Barhyte. The Barhytes had a family recipe for mustard that they trace back to their ancestors in Germany, who first sold it in the U.S. during Revolutionary War times. They formed a company in 1982 selling mustard out of Pendleton. Their eldest son, Chris, a 43-year-old Oregon State University graduate with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, left the corporate world after stints at Disney and Taco Bell/Pepsico and put together a plan for the family business in 1995.

Barhyte Specialty Foods
CEO: Chris Barhyte
Founded: 1982, as Old Fashioned Foods
Employees: 52
Revenues: $10 million
Blog: saucymamacafe.com

From the beginning the plan was to sell the product out of the Portland area while making it in Pendleton. The arrangement was meant to minimize family stress, to give Suzie creative control of the cooking while leaving her son free to handle marketing. “It keeps us out of each other’s faces,” says Barhyte. “And it keeps me focused on sales here. They don’t want me out there mucking around with production.”

They started small — real small. Production consisted of mom and pop working with a five-gallon Hobart mixer and bottling the mustard by hand. Barhyte’s budget for the first month projected $15,000 in sales; the actual number came in at $6,000. So the 28-year-old CEO loaded up the van and hit the road, pitching mustard up and down the Oregon Coast and around the High Desert, filling orders, driving around ingredients and making deliveries. Two or three times per week he would get up at 6 a.m., drive out to Pendleton and drop off deliveries on the way back home late at night. He had one customer in Hood River who got used to him showing up at 11:30 at night on his way home and leaving the package out back. The business hired its first employee in 1998: Chris’s younger brother, Mike, who runs the factory in Pendleton.

 


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// Photos by Adam Bacher
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The breakthrough came in 1999, when Barhyte received a call from a representative of Kroger, one of the largest grocery chains in the world, which had just executed a merger with Fred Meyer. The company wanted to start selling condiments under an upscale private label, and they wanted Barhyte to make it for them. The Barhytes recognized the opportunity, and after passing the necessary inspections and tests they began ramping up production in Pendleton. They produced 10 mustards for Kroger, as well as salad dressings, chicken wing sauces and other condiments. The deal with Kroger brought others like it, and today 80% of the family business is in private labels.

In 2006, Barhyte Specialty Foods won an award as grocery vendor of year for the Kroger chain. Chris and Suzie attended the event where they were honored, and the positive feedback they received there compelled them to make their largest investment — an overhaul of Suzie’s test kitchen and expansions of the production facility and warehouses. They followed up that initiative with marketing campaigns to solidify the brand around the family name and Suzie’s cooking, obtaining a trademark for the phrase “Make every meal extraordinary,” and launching a line of marinades, dressings and mustards under the label Saucy Mama. Their newest item, Suzie’s Yellow Mustard, came out in October.

The business didn’t suffer during the recession partly because Barhyte doesn’t sell to many restaurants, and didn’t get hurt when people shifted from dining out to dining at home to save money. The company is on track to improve on its 2010 sales figure. Barhyte says sales have increased every year since the company raked in $145,000 in 1995. He gets a kick out of the monthly pitch calls from the bank that used to turn them down for loans, and from the steady flow of offers to buy the company. He says he plans to continue ignoring those offers to sell.

 



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