Ken Davis: The Inspiring Success Story of a Minnesota Black Entrepreneur

Grandmother’s Secret Recipe: A Million-Dollar Creation

After facing numerous obstacles, Ken Davis emerged as the face of success for Black-owned businesses in Minnesota. His homemade barbecue sauce, derived from his grandmother’s secret recipe, went on to generate millions of dollars across the Midwest. This is the remarkable journey of a determined entrepreneur who defied all odds to achieve greatness.

Overcoming Doubts and Challenges

When Ken Davis closed his take-out restaurant in Edina after just one year, he refused to let his dreams fade away. He took his renowned barbecue sauce on the road, visiting local supermarkets to sell his unique creation. However, he encountered countless skeptics along the way.

“People said they don’t eat barbecue sauce, comparing it to hot sauce, and they weren’t interested,” recalls Barbara Davis, Ken’s late wife. The Small Business Administration and banks also doubted the potential of their venture, making it even more challenging. Despite the discouragement, Ken Davis remained undeterred.

A Journey Towards Success

Undeterred by the naysayers, Ken Davis began his journey to success by selling his barbecue sauce out of his car. Slowly and steadily, he expanded the scope of his marketing efforts, reaching out to stores and distributors. Barbara Davis, a seasoned marketer and home economist at General Mills, played a pivotal role in perfecting the recipe and documenting its secret ingredients.

With perseverance and dedication, the couple turned their grandmother’s recipe into a top-selling product. Ken Davis Bar-B-Q-Sauce gained immense popularity, ultimately outselling major national brands. The journey wasn’t without its hurdles, though. They faced a lawsuit from someone claiming ownership of the recipe, which they thankfully won.

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A Recipe for Success

The Davis’ relentless pursuit of their dreams led them to a manufacturer willing to take a chance on their barbecue sauce. Challenges regarding funding were overcome, and Ken Davis Products, Inc. was established in 1972. Over time, annual revenues soared into the millions, and their sauce was successfully sold in five Upper-Midwest states.

Ken’s initial goal was simple – to create a product that could sustain them financially. It took several years before significant profits started flowing in, but their hard work eventually paid off. They secured deals with major warehouses supplying grocery stores and distributors catering to restaurants, hospitals, and hotels.

The Davis’ impressive success can be attributed to Ken’s persuasive skills. In stores where owners initially rejected another barbecue sauce, Ken would offer to set up a few cases and conduct weekend demos. If the sauce didn’t sell, he’d take it away, but if it did, he would bring more. This unique approach won over many skeptics.

A Supportive Network

Barbara Davis emphasizes the importance of not trying to achieve success alone. Even without funds to research trademarks, they devised a strategy that set them apart from competitors. They decided to incorporate Ken’s picture and signature on the label, creating a distinct brand identity that resonated with customers. Along the way, they received invaluable support from various individuals, including entrepreneurs, lawyers, and accountants.

Ken Davis sadly passed away in 1991, leaving Barbara to continue running the business. In 2010, she made the bittersweet decision to sell it. Even so, Ken Davis Bar-B-Q-Sauce remains one of the most successful Black-owned businesses in Minnesota’s history.

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This extraordinary success story serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly those facing significant challenges. It reminds us that with unwavering determination, resilience, and the support of a strong network, even the most ambitious dreams can be realized.

Next Week: The Challenges Faced by Black-Owned Businesses in Minnesota

In our next article, we will delve into the biggest challenges encountered by Black-owned businesses in Minnesota. Stay tuned to learn about the struggles and triumphs that shape the entrepreneurial landscape for people from diverse backgrounds.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].