Rise and grind
Production and development at Colonel De’s is a lot different today than it was back in 2006, when the Colonel and his wife signed their first lease at the Historic Findlay Market in Cincinnati. “We opened [the store] with 100 items and I thought, ‘Boy, I got it now, man,’” the Colonel says. “You can’t come up and ask me for anything I don’t have. And the very first week, three people did.” But he adapted, and politely told customers that though he didn’t have an item just then, he’d work on developing it.
Eventually the one store became three and 100 items became 600 -- but not without some professional help and business know-how.
Among the staff at Colonel De’s three locations (Historic Findlay Market, Jungle Jim’s, and the business headquarters in Fort Thomas) are seven chefs with a cumulative 250 years of experience. Often, one of them will come up with an idea. “They’ll say, ‘You know, we don’t have anything that’s Tahitian. Don’t you think we ought to?’ And we’ll start researching and we’ll come up with something until we all say, ‘Yeah, by golly! There it is!’”
The business also works closely with chefs at the Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati, a relationship that continues to generate new and creative tastes. When one of the MCI’s chefs called Colonel De complaining he couldn’t find any good tōgarashi (a Japanese spice) on the market, the team got to work. The result: the perfect blend, with just enough salt and not too much heat.
But while the more unique spices like tōgarashi are made in small batches, the Colonel says the biggest difference between today and 2006 is the volume he moves regularly. “The first time I had to order 100 pounds of salt, I was terrified,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh my god, they’ll be putting salt in my grave, I’ve got so much salt!’ And if I go down to the warehouse now and we don’t have 250 pounds, I know we’re screwed.”
Keeping track of the three tons worth of product and extensive catalogue isn’t as hard as it sounds though. Colonel De received a loan from Sam Adams’ Brewing the American Dream program, which paid for the business’s first group of iPads, allowing them to move off of pencil and paper and set up a database. With the rest of the loan money, they purchased a seed grinder. Now, instead of buying powdered ingredients (like cumin, for example, which the Colonel says atrophies quickly), he can buy seeds and grind them when needed.