Burger Company Goes From Backyard to Store Shelves

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If the American business dream begins with an idea sparked in a backyard, Monique and Chevalo Wilsondebriano exemplify it in creating the Charleston Gourmet Burger Co.

It began at their Charleston, South Carolina, home in April 2012, where they had moved four years earlier following Chevalo’s retirement from the New York City Fire Department. He was a decorated emergency medical services officer and was one of the first responders on the scene of 9/11.

That life-changing event was the catalyst for the Wilsondebrianos to relocate to Charleston to raise their family and enjoy a more peaceful life.

In Charleston, Monique and Chevalo regularly hosted barbecues. Guests loved the homemade blends of herbs and spices used in the sauces and marinades. The flavors proved so popular a business was born — bottling and selling these burger sauces and marinades.

The next step was distribution. Each summer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hosts their Open Call and U.S. Manufacturing Supplier Summit at its Bentonville headquarters. This looked like the perfect opportunity for Charleston Gourmet to reach a wide audience, but the company’s first online application for consideration was turned down.

However, at the summit they met a manager for Walmart’s supplier diversity program, who educated them on the criteria for becoming a Walmart supplier. They needed to improve their Dun & Bradstreet score, set up business insurance, and take care of other “homework,” as Monique describes it.

Charleston Gourmet applied for the 2015 Open Call and received the coveted invitation. There, they met with their future buyer and Walmart merchants, who were won over by Monique and Chevalo’s presentation.

Now available in 44 Walmart stores across the southeastern U.S., Charleston Gourmet plans on going nationwide in the near future. As Walmart aligns its stores with its dot-com business, Charleston Gourmet is preparing to launch on Walmart.com.

In an effort to promote healthier eating, Charleston Gourmet avoids adding sugar, corn syrup, sodium or gluten to their sauces and marinades. Their products contain only 1-2 grams of sugar from the ketchup used in their recipes, which customers found appealing during a recent Sam’s Club road show. Customers said the products tasted great and fit their low-sugar dietary restrictions.

Charleston Gourmet is now debuting a new barbecue sauce lightly sweetened with Stevia, intended to help diabetics make better food choices, as it’s difficult to find diabetic-friendly foods that also taste good. The problem is personal to Monique, who witnessed her diabetic grandmother face this issue.

“Responsibility came with this opportunity,” Monique said, “I want to make a difference in people’s lives with the foods they eat.”

A backyard get-together became Monique and Chevalo’s full-time business, and they aim to inspire others who have business ideas and need help taking the first step.