ST. LOUIS — Larry Lee's stepfather, Reuben Anderson, and mother, Katherine, started Andy's Seasoning from the basement of their north St. Louis home in 1981.
"She was a very good cook, and he loved to cook meat," Lee said. "He began tinkering, and the first products were a barbecue sauce and a meat rub. They both lived to work."
They sold their products to friends, co-workers, neighbors and a few mom-and-pop stores. Reuben, known as Andy, was from Texas and chose a longhorn steer as the company logo.
Soon the family home couldn't accommodate product demand. They rented a small production facility at 1931 Washington Ave.
Today Andy's Seasoning is a $20 million company with three lines of business: retail sales of 13 products in grocery stores, commercial sales to restaurants and mom-and-pop businesses, and industrial sales to McDonald's suppliers. Products include chicken, fish and vegetable breading; seasoned salt; and batter. It distributes to 44 states and is sold locally at Schnucks, Dierbergs and Save A Lot grocery stores and restaurants. Wholesale customers sell Andy's products in Mexico and Canada. Since 1987, Andy's has sold seasoning to three companies that produce Chicken McNuggets for McDonald's restaurants nationwide.
Achieving success wasn't a straight line. His stepfather died in 1996, when the company had annual sales of about $3 million but had $300,000 in debt. Katherine took over the company and struggled at first. "One of the companies we bought ingredients from said it would do no business with us until it got paid," Lee said. Banks were reluctant to lend to a woman operating a business. "They were going to foreclose," he said. "For years, she had to agree to forbearance agreements."
"Mom was a wise business woman," Lee said. "She told them if I can't make product, I can't pay you." She kept the business going, reduced debt, oversaw a move to a larger plant at 2829 Chouteau Ave., won business awards, and increased annual sales to more than $12 million at the time of her death in 2011.
Since then, Lee, 67, founder and pastor of Agape Christian Center for more than 40 years, has led the company and made the final payment on debt four months after her death.
"Everything is paid off," he said.
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