Shannon Kimball’s friends and family were so taken with his barbecue sauce, they urged him to turn it into a business.
But it took a decade of gentle nudges before he did.
In 2009, he contracted with a commercial kitchen in Lenexa to manufacture and package his sauces under the FireBug brand. He handled sales and distribution.
Kimball also kept his day job as owner of Kimball Tile & Stone, which specializes in high-end master bathrooms. His plan was to slowly phase out the tile and stone business as FireBug expanded.
Then his sauce —all-natural and infused with raspberries and blackberries — won the 2013 “Best Sauce on the Planet” award in the American Royal World Series of Barbecue contest. That boosted sales by 800 percent, he said.
“That’s what did it for me,” he said. “I want people to know how powerful that is. After I won, the phone started ringing off the hook.”
He hired another company to distribute the sauces, deciding he needed to head his own commercial kitchen.
Properties in the Crossroads area of downtown were out of his budget. Then he came across a 6,000-square-foot building at the corner of 30th and Troost Avenue. It not only was priced right, it would be eligible for tax abatements.
Kimball and a business partner, Ron Rupp, purchased the building for a new company they would call Flavor Trade, with a tag line of “old school canning and spice company.”
“My business background with his expertise and and knowledge. He has a great taste palate,” Rupp said.
Rupp also owns RQ Barbecue in Shorewood, Ill., and plans to open a barbecue restaurant in the Kansas City area in a couple of years.
Flavor Trade’s commercial kitchen, at 3000 Troost, is now testing equipment for an Oct. 27 opening. It will oversee the production of the FireBug Brand and the RQ line, as well as a variety of other local artisan brands like Uncle Joon’s barbecue sauce, Classy and Sassy BBQ sauce, Rib Stars, and such hummus as smokey southwest chipotle and garden basil and chive by The Hummus Co.
The retail section is scheduled to open in mid-November.
Kimball grew up on a 2,000-acre ranch near Lebo, Kan., where he became fascinated with fire — from setting pastures on fire in the spring to starting a fire pit for his barbecue — so he dubbed his brand FireBug.
“We didn’t have a grocery store. We went to the cellar. Everything was made from scratch,” Kimball said.
Kimball will use family recipes for some of Flavor Trade’s new lines, which will include chicken noodle soup, tomato bisque, pickled beets, smoked nuts, bulk spices, and dips. The products also will be sold in gift baskets.
He also plans to hire some of his employees from the neighborhood and offer a variety of classes, including canning, healthy cooking and sauce making. FireBug also will continue as a catering operation serving such items as pulled pork, sliced brisket, burnt ends, prime rib, pork spare ribs, cheesy corn, beans, and bacon mac-n-cheese. And he still has the tile business.
“My friends are like, ‘we knew you back when you were just a tile guy,’ ” he said. “But I think my wife is the happiest that I’m not making five pounds of sauce in the ‘test’ kitchen in our home.”
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