BLOUNTVILLE - A local distributorship of natural salsas and barbecue sauce has products headed to the shelves of Cracker Barrel restaurant gift shops nationwide.
And it's thanks to a Tri-Cities military pilot and interior designer, with some help from their two daughters, and a Cookeville man with a passion for his grandfather's salsa and barbecue recipes.
Trigger Beeler's Gourmet Foods offerings of salsas and barbecue sauce, which use the slogan "So Good It Oughta Be Outlawed," is already available at select retailers in the Tri-Cities, and is headed to all 565 Cracker Barrel locations in 41 states.
The local connection, Blountville-based Mason Distributors, started out at a Christmas craft show in Cookeville, Tenn., three years ago when Scott and April Mason met a man with his salsa and barbecue from his grandfather's recipes.
Carl Kester's grandfather was an Oklahoma restaurant owner known as "Trigger Beeler" in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Kester started making the salsas and barbecue sauce in 1992 but health issues were preventing him from much travel in recent years.
The Masons met Kester in Cookeville three years ago and became instant fans of his product and friends with Kester.
"I had done some paintings, and we had set up down there at a craft show," said April Mason, the president of Mason Distributors and operator of an interior design business. "We were buying so much and loved and were raving about it."
Scott Mason is from Cookeville and April is from Piney Flats. They met while students at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville and moved to Blountville in 2001 for his job with the National Guard, based out of the National Guard Armory in Kingsport. But his parents still live in Cookeville, and the Masons visit there often, which made it easy for them to buy more of Trigger's salsa and barbecue sauce.
"We fell in love with the product," he said, with her adding, "We didn't seek out and search for something to sell."
However, at Kester's request, the couple founded Mason Distributing out of their Blountville basement two and a half years ago to distribute Trigger's products.
"He's in charge of manufacturing, and we're in charge of sales," said Scott Mason, director of sales and operations for Mason Distributors and a pilot with the Tennessee National Guard. "Our customers have become our friends."
Mason also does drug education programs for the guard, mostly to ROTC students from high schools in the nine-county Northeast Tennessee area.
The sauce and salsa are made and packaged in San Antonio and then shipped to Mason Distributors, the sole distributor of the products.
Labels mention San Antonio and Cookeville, where Kester lives, and have a likeness of Kester's grandfather.
"Carl promised his grandpa that he would put his face on a wanted post and make him famous, and now his face is on our label," said April Mason.
Trigger's offers four salsas - black bean and corn, peach, garden and pineapple - and tomato-based gourmet barbecue sauce.
According to the Masons, all are considered "medium on the heat chart" and are low in salt and sugar.
For instance, a serving of all but the bean and corn salsas has 2 or 3 percent of the daily recommended sodium content. A serving of the bean and corn salsa has 10 percent. As for sugar, the peach has 3 grams, pineapple 5 grams and the other two 1 gram each.
They are not considered or sold as organic but are all natural, Scott Mason said.
Aside from Cracker Barrel, which received a salsa and barbecue sauce shipment Friday, June 15, the Trigger's line recently went on the shelves at the Medicine Shoppe in Kingsport, but Scott Mason said the core of retail support in the Tri-Cities has come through sales in the past 18 months at Mary's Kitchen Shop in Kingsport, the Stock Pot in Johnson City and the Food Country grocery chain with 10 stores in the Tri-Cities and far Southwest Virginia.
The Masons also have sold the Trigger's products, along with giving out free samples, at the Farmer's Expo and Women's Expo in Kingsport. In one and a half days, he said they once sold 424 jars at a Woman's Expo.
He said retailers have worked with him and his wife closely, given them advice and calling them by first name.
The products also are available in the Knoxville and Cookeville areas and parts of the Carolinas, but he said the 41-state exposure in Cracker Barrels - from Phoenix to Boston - is by far the largest distribution of Trigger's products to date.
"Their first purchase was 18,000 jars," Scott Mason said of the Cracker Barrel order. That's one reason the couple recently moved part of the business out of their Blountville basement to a warehouse in Boone's Creek, but they still have about 500 jars in their basement.
Advertising is mostly word of mouth, hand shakes and business cards, but the Masons said they probably will do more formal advertising in the future.
They also have a new generation of Masons to help promote the Trigger's brand. Daughters Avery, 6, and Aubrey, who will turn 2 in August, are the distributorship's "truthful taste testers" for recipes made from the salsa and barbecue sauce.
The Mason Distributing Web site is www.triggerbeeler.com, but no sales are done through that site. However, it has the recipes taste-test approved by Avery and Aubrey and an e-mail link for retailers interested in Trigger's products.