The Beginning: From Corporate to Crafters

 3 pints a day keeps the doctor away.

3 pints a day keeps the doctor away.

Salutations! I’ve always thought 'salutations' was a regal greeting…first heard it scarfing down Cheetos watching “Charlotte’s Web”, the story about the runt pig, Wilbur, and a congenial spider, Charlotte, who saves him from impending slaughter before she dies. I have an alternate but more realistic ending for our sacred swine- Wilbur would have won first place at the Jack Daniels BBQ Invitational as a rack of ribs and a picnic shoulder instead of the blue ribbon the state fair. No arachnidan scribbles in a web would have prevented that reality, atleast in my world. Already thinking barbeque at the ripe old age of nine, a precursor to my ‘now’ life. Anyway, my name is Brent- my wife, Nichelle and I are professional crafters/artists, aka moderately poor people with some thread, a bobbin and some tubes of oil paint. We earn our meager bags of coins as all imaginative serfs do, travelling the roads across the bogs and meadows of this united kingdom to sell our wares at craft shows, food festivals and barbeque competitions. We started, and I say ‘we’ with a sly grin about 7 years ago. My wife was busy knickknacking her crafts in between watching after our daughter, and I was the guy in background whispering, “You are wasting your time!” She has always been a creative person, never really content with pushing papers from a grey cubicle for the man. I was the consummate sucker who believed that if I were a loyal and diligent worker, the company will surely financially take care of me and my future minions for the life of my labor. But alas, this is the folly of every indentured servant. It took my lovely wife to philosophically slap me around a little and allow me to see another path. Go with your passion. Many of us entirely change our profession at some point in life, by choice or by fire. For us, it took a little of both.

 Beautiful cut ribs! You can do the Homer Simpson drool looking at these.

Beautiful cut ribs! You can do the Homer Simpson drool looking at these.

Nichelle did small local craft shows sporadically, selling whatever her creativity lead her to- car dashboard ornaments, etched glass jars, children’s travel bags, baby cart seats, dishtowel men, table runners, and I can keep going.  At the time, I was working 70 hours at an orange big box retailer, but sometimes would get a free Saturday morning and I would help her set up at her local shows.  Saturday craft show days  starting at 6am and ending that evening-sometimes she would make $200, sometimes $20. When customers didn't buy certain things, she kept it up and created something else. I have forgotten what led her to this, but Nichelle then focused on making scrub tops, and found a winner. She became as the ‘Scrub Lady’, she went from dentist office to hospital lunch room selling her handsewn custom apparel to nurses, doctors and dentist. Awesome! She finally found a niche she could exploit. Then the inevitable happens-many hospitals started requiring that employees wear solid scrub uniforms, which significantly impacted her scrub business. We have to shift focus again.Nichelle then signed to do a barbeque festival in South Georgia called the BigPigJig. Take 75 south and you will eventually hit the small town of Vienna. It is in this nook of a place where we saw a more tangible future for this endeavor- heck, who knew all things barbeque is a multi-billion dollar business?!. Her crafts were a huge hit on that Saturday afternoon-her aprons and mitts mingled with the wafting hickory smoke of the barbeque competitors, and we sold the most merchandise we ever sold, over $1100 dollars, and our customers loved great barbeque and worshipped the pigskin. As a half Yankee outsider(born in Memphis, grew up in NY), I had no idea about how popular college football was in Georgia. In Long Island, NY, it barely registered on the radar, but college basketball had a phenomenal following in the 1980s. The religion of football in the South is distinctive and scary, with team indoctrination  begins at a toddler’s first steps. Georgia or Tennessee. Alabama or Auburn, no middle ground, a side must be chosen like the Hatfields and McCoys. There is a familial state pride associated with every school fan base that spans decades, mixed with a omnipresent Southern anger predating the Civil War, which creates a fan base in each state that sometimes live and die with every snap. People are glued to their TVs, radios and Iphone apps to get the scoop on their teams every move. The tailgate or pregame rituals are just as elaborate, with fans getting together sometimes the day before the game to swap stories, have beverages, and, you guessed it, barbeque. This specific religion goes hand in hand with football, with coaches and bbq masters often speaking to the same congregation, so that became our market for our goods, thus, BBQ, Beer & Balls. Ad you ask, where does the beer fit in? Like who doesn’t combine a little brown brew with the big game, or baste ribs with Budweiser or thrill their tailgate buddies with some tasty beer can chicken. Beer is a universal good. Beer always fits in.

 Some of our customers wearing their hand sewn team cooking mitts at the Beer & Bourbon BBQ festival in Atlanta.

Some of our customers wearing their hand sewn team cooking mitts at the Beer & Bourbon BBQ festival in Atlanta.

We hope you enjoy our little corner of the universe. Hope to give you and yours some insights about the BBQ events and food festivals we have attended. We pray that some of our writing will entertain and provide some help and inspiration to other crafters and artists who may need a nudge to go walk off that cliff and go pro solo. No rainbows or unicorns blog here-it can be a tough go as a professional crafter, artist, chef, whatever, and making that work with two small kids, a mortgage, and very little left in the 401K. But its been almost 6 years, and I still wouldn't give it up. Lots of travel, cool experiences and great people-don't get me wrong though, some financial agony and dark days have been endured by our family. The pain is part of the journey, and its your job to fail everyday as an entrepreneur. We fall down, but we get up.