It’s notoriously difficult to keep a restaurant operating in the black. In an industry where most businesses fail, how has a little barbecue restaurant succeeded to the point where it will donate over $50,000 to charity this year? The answer involves a prize-winning racehorse, a team’s dedication to a craft and a partnership with their community.
With a unique story, name, menu and giving program, Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQof Louisville, Kentucky, is a one-of-a-kind restaurant.
A few years ago, Chad Cooley owned a 3% stake in a racehorse named Mucho Macho Man. “Mucho was a once-in-a-lifetime horse, eventually winning over $5.6 million and becoming the Breeder’s Cup Champion,” said Chad. “I was able to sell my shares in Mucho for about $39,000 and that’s what we used to buy our food truck and first smoker.”
Chad and his business partner Jamie set off to Kansas City to learn from famed Pitmaster, Barbecue Competition Champion and Chef – Paul Kirk (A.K.A The Baron of BBQ). Chad and Jamie developed their spice rub and barbecue sauce with Chef Paul Kirk and returned to Louisville ready to make the best barbecue in town.
Mechanical issues delayed the opening of the food truck, so Chad and Jamie began selling their wares out of a friend’s bar. They also started producing specialty mustard and pickles from Chad’s mother’s old family recipes. The untraditional name, Momma’s Mustard, Pickles and BBQ, came naturally, and, even before the restaurant proved it could be profitable, Chad unveiled a unique giving program.
“I love Louisville and knew that I wanted to give something back to the community,” continued Chad. “We decided that our customers wouldn’t mind an extra 1% on their check as long as we were putting our 1% in too. We ended up with a program called 2% for Louisville.”
Many businesses give to charities, but 2% for Louisville is different. First, customers see their gift on their bill and Momma’s proudly promotes the program. The 1% added to the bill isn’t simply written into the cost of a plate of ribs, pulled pork or their incredibly tasty smoked wings. Second, customers have a say in who receives their donations. Chad selected six local charities (including Special Olympics of Kentucky, Dare to Care Food Bank, and The Healing Place) and customers vote for the charity they wish to support. The votes are totaled on Momma’s website and donations are distributed according to total votes.
The program exists to support organizations in their community, but Chad is open about the benefits the restaurant receives from the program. He shares these hoping other businesses will replicate the 2% for Louisville program as it benefits his community, the restaurant and, he believes, his customers.
“First,” said Chad, “we do get a small tax break for our portion of the charitable donation, and anyone in this business knows that we’re taxed to the hilt, so every little bit helps.”
“I love Louisville and knew that I wanted to give something back to the community”
Second, the program helps focus their giving. Restaurants are inundated with requests for donations and support. Rather than try to pick and choose which requests to grant, Momma’s has already decided which charities they support. This makes declining additional requests a little easier for everyone.
“Third,” continued Chad, “the voting process drives people to our website. Our hearts are in the right place, but it’s also good for business.”
Momma’s has experienced rapid growth from the beginning. The most difficult part of the business was keeping up with demand. Instead of using the bar space until the truck was finished, they ended up turning the bar into a restaurant, eventually opened a second location and still have the truck. They also opened an FDA approved Food Processing Center, necessary to commercially sell their mustard and pickles.
“It’s been a tremendous ride so far,” concluded Chad. “The restaurant was a risk and it asks a lot out of our whole team, but it’s a labor of love. We love bringing smiles to our customer’s faces with great food, building a successful business and partnering with our customers to support important organizations in Louisville. The next time you are in Louisville, please stop in for a meal!”
Johnny Fugitt is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. He believes barbecue to be the tastiest intersection of freedom and food, so he tweets about it at @barbecueranking.