How did you come up with the idea for Toney’s Naturals?
I wanted some picante sauce and I went to the store to get some and the store was out. I decided I would just make my own and that it couldn't be that hard.
I got 6 tomatoes. I made a few batches and it was horrible. I realized it wasn't as easy as I thought it was. And so the cliché story is that I made some one day and I took it to work and people told me it was really good, and that was that.
What made you want to help support Dan and his cheesy dreams?
Dan and I used to work together on different floors. We would see each other from time to time, and somebody told me that he liked food like I do. We were in the corporate dining room at Ingram and we got to talking about food, and that dude lit up. Imagine taking a child to Disney World, and I could see what people saw in me. We are kindred spirits.
I knew he had this uber passion for food, but that didn't mean that he could cook. I'm a food critic and snob, so one day we were over at his house and he let me try the original Mac Attack. I'm extremely straight and critical, but I told him he could sell it. When I said that, I had already seen the vision of getting it started, and then from there he just did the rest.
How did you push Dan along the way?
I was notorious for calling him and Mandi early in the morning and ask them what they were doing. I would say: "Man look, the competition is already up." And then I'd hang up. I liked to mess with him and motivate him at the same time. I'm known for staying up all night and sleeping on the kitchen floor. We call it "rise and grind." Eventually it got to the point where they would be up and making product.
Toney demoing the product at a local Kroger.
What were some of the challenges you faced in starting a brand?
I don't see challenges the way everybody else sees it. Everybody wants to be in the food industry, and everybody is not built to be in this industry or to be an entrepreneur. It’s not easy; it's actually one of the hardest things you will ever do and there are no guarantees.
People are always saying they make the best salsa, so when you go to talk to a buyer, they hear that airplane noise when you call and say that you have salsa. They've heard it so many times.
When I first started doing this, local was not a big thing. There was not this local initiative and healthy eating hadn't really evolved here like it is now.
We are a Nashville salsa, but we are kind of an unknown brand in our own city. When I started this, Whole Foods wasn't here and there was no Trader Joes. There was Wild Oats and Sunshine Grocery and the market was really small. Eventually we got into Whole Foods, but the demographics of the city were different then and there weren't as many people shopping there. We then got into Fresh Market, but we were only in these specialty shops where it wasn't the norm to shop then. I'm shipping out a lot of cases to Fresh Markets, but there's only one in Nashville. [Toney’s Naturals] has always been here and there's always been stores that have carried it here, but it’s not readily available for the masses.
We certainly love being in specialty stores, but we just need to have the distribution.
What’s one thing most people would be surprised to hear about you?
I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes and I like to dip my chip. I'm not a scooper. I dip until all the liquid is gone and whatever is left gets tossed.
If you had to eat at one Nashville restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I'm an East-Sider and I gotta stay in the East. I'm gonna say Margot Cafe & Bar. I almost want to say Lockeland Table, but they have the same menu and Margot's changes everyday.