When raises dried up at work a decade ago, Craig Jones needed a new way to make up lost income.
“It kind of happened by accident. It was never on purpose,” Jones said of the hobby he turned into a side hustle in 2011 and ways it’s since grown into a booming business — Savory Addictions — craved by Kansas City foodies and lauded by industry experts with gourmet palates.
“Somebody asked me to go to a cocktail party. Usually at cocktail parties what I like to bring is bacon-wrapped dates that are dusted with a little brown sugar [then cooked over the fire],” he recalled, noting his host wanted something different for the occasion and instead challenged him to find a way to whip up a batch of mixed nuts, using his talents on the grill and behind the smoker.
That artisan nut blend was an instant, seasoned and smoked hit, Jones recalled, noting the first batch made its debut around 2005 with perfection taking shape in the years that followed — largely at home, sipping wine with his wife and co-founder, Gay Jones.
When finances got tight amid turmoil at his job with Sprint, the recipe for Savory Addiction’s original blend was so well developed, taking it to market was a no brainer — reinforced by support from friends and family.
“Everybody tells you, ‘Oh, you should start a business,’ and we were like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’” Jones said, recalling the couple chose instead to take part in the Kauffman FastTrac program offered by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — a decision which pushed them beyond the point of hobbyists and helped them become better-equipped entrepreneurs.
“It really helped us kind of hone in on what it is to start a business and we started — self-funded, very small — from there.”
The artisan nut company gained significant popularity through a pre-pandemic partnership with Boulevard Brewery’s Beer Hall, Gay Jones noted, working alongside the brewery’s sensory panel to develop the blend served at Boulevard’s event and social space, which boasts hints of rosemary and other herbs that compliment citrusy notes of hopps found in Tank 7 and 80 Acres.
The company has since grown a lengthy list of local restaurant partners that includes the likes of Jasper’s Italian Restaurant, J. Rieger & Co. distillery, and the recently-closed The Rieger restaurant, in addition to such retail partners as Better Cheddar.
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“We sound like straight up nerds,” Gay Jones laughed, diving into the art behind the company’s lengthy — but fun — flavor development process.
“The original blend can go great with just straight up beer, some whiskey, some darker liquors, things like that,” she explained, also detailing the company’s white and red wine blends.
“You can have a fun little pairing playground with all that kind of stuff. … [With Savory Addictions] there’s really that true essence of wood smoke in there. It’s not liquid smoke, it’s not a powdered seasoning, it’s not a chemical. And that’s the thing that really sets us apart — you can’t fake that.”
Made in small batches, packaged, and labeled by the couple, a product doesn’t get more local than Savory Addictions, they added, noting it’s their hope the brand continues to evolve within the metro’s food scene — something near to them both and an industry they hope to see rebound as work to end the COVID-19 pandemic gains steam.
“We are fortunate. Yes, everybody has suffered to a degree — but there are people who are in a lot worse shape than we are,” Gay Jones said in a message to friends and customers hit hard by the pandemic.
“I don’t want to sound hollow in saying these words … ‘Have a little faith. Take it one step at a time, still look at what your initial dream was — and still see the good in that and move forward with it because that nugget [of motivation] that was there at the beginning is still there.’”
Chasing the initial spark of joy found when launching Savory Addictions could be what’s driven the company to such great heights, she continued.
“We say thank you [to the friends who pushed us]. A lot of them are still customers — even after we begged them into helping hock nuts at our holiday boutique booths and stuff like that. They’ve still been extremely loyal and genuine in their support and we are very grateful for that.”
For entrepreneurs just starting out, taking time to understand the community in which they’re building a business or brand might be the best piece of advice the couple could unshell, added Craig Jones.
“You may have a product — but don’t just keep pushing that. Push building relationships and see what you can do to help contribute to the community. [Success] comes as a sidebar.”