From Family Recipe to Farmers Markets and Beyond
Makieda Hart launched Sgt. Hart’s BBQ sauce in 2018 as a way to share a longstanding family recipe created by her husband, Sgt. Reno Hart, nearly 20 years earlier. As a daughter, mother, and spouse of military veterans, Hart has always valued good food to bring people, families, and communities together. It was during their communal cookouts while stationed in Germany that Sgt. Hart’s sauce was first created, and friends and family never stopped asking for more, insisting it was a product worth selling.
In 2018 Hart left her corporate career to pursue her goal of being more independent, choosing small business ownership to discover more creative freedom. Hart knew she had a great product to offer but felt intimidated by the idea of having to sell people on it. Sticking to her roots, Hart focused on “sharing” the great taste and versatile uses of the sauce, and the product sold itself. Within months of handing out samples at her first food festival, Hart secured a production copacker and applied to several local farmers' markets. By 2020 Hart began hiring staff to assist with more than six weekly farmers’ markets, in addition to festivals and holiday events. When the COVID pandemic began, Hart was faced with a sudden need to adapt to new norms to stay connected to her customers and keep the business in operation.
Faced with many challenges created by the pandemic, including stay at home orders and limitations for outdoor gatherings, Hart focused on her mission to create a positive impact for her customers. Through SBA’s COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, Hart was able to secure funding. The funding helped cover the necessary supplies and staffing to continue attending events and markets where available, produce additional inventory, and develop her website to begin selling online directly to customers.
In 2021 Sgt. Hart’s BBQ Sauce won the Military Spouse Community Impact award during Impact Pitch, a small business competition hosted by SBA Resource Partner Business Impact NW, and was a finalist in the overall competition. As part of the competition, small business owners receive training and guidance on preparing business plans, financial projections, and pitch presentations to compete for cash prizes. By participating in the competition, Hart received one-on-one coaching through the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), part of Business Impact NW, giving her the business management skills to continue to grow her company. “I knew my business was doing well, but I didn’t really know all the numbers as well as I wanted to,” Hart recalls. “Learning about financial forecasting and cash flow projections has enabled me to create detailed budgets and manage my business’s finances as I look to expand more in the future.”
Since starting four years ago, Sgt. Hart’s BBQ sauce has developed into a full line of flavors and can now be found at weekly farmers' markets across four counties, in local grocery stores, and available online.