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Omaha man puts away shirt and tie, dons apron, finds success at the BBQ grill
He traded in a button-up shirt and tie for an apron, and hungry barbeque lovers in Nebraska couldn’t be happier.
Mike Popelier was a branch manager for a copier retailer in Omaha when he was downsized two years ago. But instead of updating his resume on job sites, he waved goodbye to the workaday world and turned his grilling hobby into a business—Desperate Husbands BBQ.
The name comes from Popelier’s barbequeing team, which was given the easy-to-remember moniker by his wife, Lisa. As part of his team or as an individual, Popelier had competed in barbequeing events around Omaha for five years, winning several awards for his delectable sauces and rubs. And his talent around the grill has rubbed off on his sons, both of whom won their divisions at the Nebraska State BBQ contest at nearby Bellevue’s riverside Hayworth Park.
“This is a culmination of everything I’ve been doing with barbeque for the past 20 years,” Popelier said. “I’ve been smoking (meats) for a long time.”
Popelier’s combination of spices, seasonings and herbs adding just the right flavor and texture to his grilling meats took him more than 10 years to perfect.
“It’s just me in my kitchen, trying different things,” he said. “I love to cook.”
Hy-Vee previously had sponsored his team during barbeque competitions, and had urged Popelier to go into business “for more than a year now.”
He took his product on the road, setting up a small table inside the stores, grilling up the grocery’s meats to help market his recipes.
“I’ve got a rub for ribeye steaks, fish, pork,” Popelier said. “I’ll hand out my ribeye steak recipe for customers, and their first reaction when they taste it is, ‘this is fantastic!’”
Popelier researched the cost of growing the business beyond demonstrating his products at local grocery stores, and met with Centris Federal Credit union to pursue financing. He was approved Nov. 9, 2010, through the lender for an SBA Express loan, the proceeds of which went to Palmer House Foods of Omaha, which followed his closely-held recipe to manufacture his rubs, and Original Juan in Kansas City, which does his sauces, shipping 156 cases of product back to him for distribution on shelves.
Already, Popelier offers his products at 20 different Hy-Vee locations, and nine SuperSaver stores in the Omaha and Lincoln area. He’s reached across the Midwest to place his rubs and sauces in markets in Rock Island and East Moline, Ill., and had plans to add his marinade recipe to his line.
“Through my product demonstrations, the growth has been unbelievable,” he said. “Revenue forecast is $60,000 by the end of the first year.”
And, in case you don’t want to hang out at a grocery store to get a sample off some freshly rubbed and grilled steak, he has hopes in the future to open a restaurant.