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Cooking Up a Great Company

Photo of Debra Dudley

Brief description of the business: Oscarware is a family-owned manufacturing business, founded in 1989 by Debra and Reg Dudley. Sensing the anything-can-be-grilled trend, they invented a new product they called “grill topper” making it possible to cook a variety of meals on an outdoor grill.

The original grill topper product transformed the traditional backyard barbeque menu from hamburgers and hotdogs to delicate fish, fresh vegetables and pizza. Grillers got creative with non-traditional foods starting new grilling trends. The company has continued to develop new topper products now offering a complete line of both disposable and gourmet porcelain coated steel toppers, woks and griddles.

All products are made in Bonnieville, a city of less than 300 people in central Kentucky.  Oscarware is the leading manufacturer of both disposable and porcelain coated steel toppers in the U.S. 

Oscarware has grown to 32 employees and distributes product across the U.S. The company now exports products to Europe and is currently working with customers in Canada and Mexico with assistance from the SBA STEP exporting program.

SBA Assistance: Two SBA loans for working capital and expansion of the business. Participation in the SBA STEP exporting program. Assistance for over 10 years from the Western Kentucky University SBDC.

Number of employees: 32       

Response to adversity or problems: The first several years of the new millennium were full of hardship and loss. In 2001, three of Oscarware’s major national accounts filed for bankruptcy. Two years later, Debra’s husband of twenty-four years had two strokes. Then, in March of 2006, he passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Losing him was not just personal. They built the business together. They were a team. He managed the manufacturing side and he had the technical knowledge of how the equipment and machines worked.

Now the responsibility of the manufacturing side of the business fell on Debra’s shoulders. The business was still struggling. Cash flow was lacking, and now she had to go it alone without him by my side. Determined and scared, she spent tireless hours stabilizing the business and creating opportunities to grow the business.  In 2007, things started turning around when 10,000 Dollar General Stores put toppers on their shelves.

Insufficient cash flow made alternative sources of financing a premium cost, resulting in difficulties in growing the business. Debra had to find working capital. She contacted and began working with the Western Kentucky University SBDC in Bowling Green, as well as the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

The SBDC has offered her extensive counseling since then, assisted Ms. Dudley with marketing, product development and financial forecasting. She and her SBDC counselor then developed a strong business plan that enabled the company to obtain several commercial bank loans from the state of Kentucky as well as two SBA 7(a) loans. This influx of cash has allowed the company to jump forward significantly in growing the business creating more jobs for the small town of Bonnieville.

In 2015, sales grew 50%, and those two SBA loans are now paid in full.

Staying power: Oscarware has a rich history of product innovation and providing employment opportunities to the citizens of Bonnieville and the surrounding area. The company has obtained national contracts with Walmart, Kroger, Dollar General Stores, Tractor Supply, Walgreens, SuperValu, Wegmans, Camping World, Albertsons, ASDA UK and other national outlets with its innovative and continual product development and entrepreneurial leadership.

In the past three years, revenues have rapidly grown, improving cash flow and liquidity. Net worth has more than doubled. In 2015, the company’s sales grew a record 50%.  With the help of the SBA and SBDC, Ms. Dudley and Jeff Dudley, who is Vice President of the company and her son, have guided the company from financial crisis into healthy, profitable growth.  

Community Involvement: Throughout the years, Oscarware has received numerous awards, including the 2008 and 2017 Kentucky SBDC Pacesetter Award, 2008 Women Business Enterprise National Council – Southeast (WBENC) Woman Owned Business of the Year, the 2009 Modern Woodmen of America’s Hometown Hero Award and the 2013 Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.  In 2017, Debra was named the SBA Kentucky Small Business Person of the Year.

Debra Dudley believes in sharing the company’s prosperity with the local community, including generous donations to the area elementary school, Habitat House, contributions to the local 4-H chapter, the Hart County Board of Education and other regional charities and civic groups. Oscarware also supports an annual Kids BBQ event and a Community Christmas Dinner event. Ms. Dudley also gives her time to the Hart County Chamber of Commerce, the Bonnieville Merchants Association, and the Walmart Women’s Empowerment Team.

Company Name: 
Oscarware Inc.
Bonnieville, KY