Small Business Success Story: Miss Essie’s Southern BBQ
Marcus Jones is bringing his grandmother’s 100-year-old barbecue sauce recipe to the masses through the Miss Essie’s Southern BBQ product line and catering business.
The Miss Essie’s Southern BBQ story is all about family legacy: From the matriarch who created the signature barbecue sauce 100 years ago to her grandson Marcus Jones who is bringing her recipe to the masses.
“Our whole model of business is based around loyalty, honesty, family and helping our community,” Jones says. “Those things are crucial to our core values here at Miss Essie’s Southern BBQ. I want my family to be able to say we achieved something that not a lot of families achieve.”
Miss Essie’s started in 2003 when Jones was working at The Skybox, and introduced the restaurant’s owners to his family’s barbecue sauce recipe. Jones and his father also began producing smoked meats and other barbecue products for Skybox.
In 2008, Jones brought in a high school friend, Deonn Henderson, as an angel investor to help take Miss Essie’s to the next level, which included launching a catering business.
“What I love about Miss Essie’s is that it’s my high school friend working with his father to create barbecue sauce from a home recipe. Miss Essie’s was started by a person, not a major corporation,” Henderson says. “Every road show, every community event, the people’s response, it really ends up being about the people.”
Pandemic Puts the Brakes on Growth
Miss Essie’s was on track to have the highest-grossing month in its 17-year history when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Catering orders were cancelled and Jones and Henderson scrambled to reinvent their business model. They offered curbside pickup and provided meals to essential workers while pursuing sources of emergency funding.
“There was a financial pressure, but my biggest frustration was that I didn’t have any control over what was going on,” Jones says. “We needed financial help. It was a little bit stressful.”
Newspaper Article Marks a Turning Point
Jones shared his dismay about his inability to access federal relief funds after completing several applications through various financial institutions in a May 1 Deseret News article. Zions Bancorporation Chairman Harris Simmons read about Jones’ plight, and reached out by phone.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry you’re in this situation and we want to help you.’ Zions answered the call!” Jones recalls.
Simmons introduced him to Zions Bank’s Murray branch manager Alex Rosenhan, and things moved quickly from there.
“That felt so good to have a financial institution that was going to help us out — I didn’t know how much — but it was something that we needed,” he says. “It was a weight taken off my shoulders when Zions Bank called and said they want to help us.”
Rosenhan said after reading the news article, he knew he had to do something to help.
“I’ve seen so many small business that got overlooked, so I wanted to get them that Paycheck Protection Program loan as quickly as possible so that it could help their business,” he says. “It ended up taking 5 days total, including the weekend, to get from application to funding.”
Henderson says the PPP loan had a “Jacob’s Ladder” effect. “Not only did our PPP loan help Miss Essies, but it also helped the families that were working here and the essential personnel that we were feeding,” he says. “Helping one served many.”
Bright Future Ahead
Looking ahead, Henderson says the future looks bright, as they expand their product line and catering business thanks to strong corporate relationships.
“We’ve done things before COVID-19 to secure a good future,” Jones says. “I think Zions was the glue to make that stick and really help us to bridge so we can get to the other side.”
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Nicola McIntosh is Social Media manager for Zions Bank.