Jay McLain Callahan: Father of Two / Soccer Coach / Writer / WSNC Driver of the Man Vanfirstname.lastname@example.org
Garner Foods: Created in Winston
There are a lot of local difference-makers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a lot of Famous Winston-Salemites that have moved out of our great city to do extraordinary things in other places. Along with great people hailing from Winston, there are also a lot of businesses developed here. In Created in Winston, I will focus on these businesses and what Winston means to them.
When Thad Wilson (T.W.) and the Garner Family started making barbecue sauce in 1929 in Winston-Salem, they probably never would have imagined their family recipes would be such a hit. Eighty-seven years later, the Garner family is hoping to make more of an imprint on Winston-Salem as they move their corporate offices from 4045 Indiana Avenue to the heart of Downtown Winston at 614 Fourth St. in the second floor of the Nash-Bolick Building.
T.W. Garner Food Company might be most known for Texas Pete Hot Sauce, but Chief Operating Officer Heyward Garner wants people to know that “the company is working to reinvigorate our name in the community of Winston-Salem.” Garner said, “it is time to step-up to 2016 and maintain a fresh image, while being a part of the phenomenal revitalization of Downtown.” Their current operations are on Indiana Avenue and were originally part of the family farmland.
It just so happens that the Nash-Bolick Building was built the same year that the Garner family started their company in 1929. The building originated as a car dealership for the Nash Automobile Company. That same year, Wilson started T.W. Garner and employed several of his siblings and his parents, who are the great-grandparents of Heyward. The business started out of the Dixie Pig Barbecue stand on Liberty Street, where the Smith-Reynolds airport is today.
In the 1930’s, the company moved to the LawrenceHospital, which is currently the Rescue Mission. During that time they bulldozed their farm and built their original factory space on Indiana Avenue, which the company moved back to in 1942 (they have added on three times in the last sixty-plus years).
When the family first started with barbecue sauce, hot sauce was not part of their vocabulary. Customers were asking for a hotter sauce and the family developed a hotter style sauce, which they named Texas Pete to differentiate it from their barbecue sauce. In the early years, they also made syrups, jams, jellies, and even Garner’s Hair Tonic. “I never saw the hair tonic, but I don’t think it is a joke,” said Heyward.
Through the last nine decades, T.W. Garner has always been a family-run business. After Wilson, Heyward’s dad, Reg Garner, took over the company in 1994. He had control of the business until he passed away in 2009, and his sister Ann Riddle took over as Chief Executive. She is currently the only third generation Garner still actively working, while her cousins Hal Garner and Frank Sherrill, still are on the board.
There are currently several fourth generation family members working in the company. Heyward’s brother-in-law (married to Dorothea), Matt McCollum, is the Chief Financial Officer, and their cousin, Glenn Garner is also a part of the administration.
A major part of the new image of the company is the move downtown and focusing on the brand-name, Garner Foods. “If you talk about only Texas Pete then you are only talking about half of our business,” said Heyward. “We want to let the area know about Garner Foods. Today if you walk around here, nobody knows about us. I am on a personal crusade to get our name out there.” The company also purchased Green Mountain Gringo out of Vermont in 2004, which makes salsas and tortilla strips.
Three years ago, T.W. Garner started the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival on Trade Street, and they are thrilled with its growth and the upcoming September festival. The company is also involved with the local Habitat for Humanity, Arts Council, and Second Harvest Food Bank. Heyward said, “our community involvement is understated. We have a lot of great stuff going on.”
The family hopes to be moved into the Nash-Bolick building within a month or two. The building will feature offices for the finance, accounting and executive staff; a war room, a board room, an outdoor patio, and a demo kitchen. The demo kitchen is an addition to the old building and will be used to bring in customers to sample the Garner Food products, and will also be visible to all on Fourth Street with a glass front. “It will give outsiders a peak behind the curtain, Willy Wonka style,” said Heyward.
The move has been four years in the making. They looked at over twenty properties, and really focused on three of them before making their final decision. “We were sitting on top of each other on Indiana Avenue, but we had been doing that for years,” said Heyward. “I personally love that we get sunlight in all places since there is a cut-out in the middle of the new building.”
Sixty-five employees in the operations department will remain in the Indiana Avenue facility and the company also employs fifteen sales staff that live and work in their territories. “This building is part of our effort to step up community relations. We want the community to be involved and know we have been here since 1929,” Garner reaffirmed. “This is also for our employees who all rock. We look forward to letting them walk to work and enjoy the Downtown restaurants.”
Do you know somebody that goes out of their way in Winston-Salem to be extra nice and helpful? If so read my Winston Giveback: Unsung Heroes post to see how to nominate this person by September 15, 2016. Click here for nomination