By Liz Segrist
Published Nov. 8, 2015
From the Oct. 19, 2015, print edition
Monique and Chevalo Wilsondebriano did not expect a family cookout at their new home in Charleston to be the start of their entrepreneurial careers.
They wanted to test out their homemade burger marinade with their guests. Monique said people lined up all day at the grill.
“I turned to Chevalo and joked that we should sell this,” Monique recalled.
|Monique and Chevalo Wilsondebriano sell their Charleston Gourmet Burgers marinade all over the country in more than 700 stores. (Photo/Liz Segrist)|
“It wasn’t the meat that they loved — you can get meat anywhere. They loved the way we flavored it and the way we seasoned it,” Monique said. “We thought that if we could make it into a product, we could ship it anywhere in the world and people could have a Charleston Gourmet Burger whenever they wanted.”
In 2012, they launched Charleston Gourmet Burger Co. — a Charleston-based, certified minority-owned company — and worked to get their marinades into stores.
They began pursuing larger, big-box stores. They said the process involved traveling to networking events and reaching out to representatives for months to secure a 15-minute pitch meeting. Thousands of entrepreneurs compete to get their products on Costco and Wal-Mart shelves.
During one Wal-Mart seminar, they realized they were not going to have the chance to pitch their product to company executives as anticipated. When one of the presenters asked if there were any questions, Chevalo stood up and presented their products on the spot.
“He stopped talking and they (Wal-Mart officials) all took out their business cards and said they wanted our product in Wal-Mart stores,” Monique said. “It’s one thing to email or make a phone call, but it’s totally different for a person to connect with you face to face.”
Charleston Gourmet Burger Co. is now sold in more than 700 store locations. By the first quarter of 2016, store locations will expand to more than 1,000 with the addition of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
The Wilsondebrianos have been featured three times on The Today Show. They built the company without loans or investors. They are now considering pitching to investors to scale the company.
As the only employees, Chevalo and Monique are solely responsible for marketing, expansion and product development. They have outsourced their graphic design, branding and production.
Monique said their prices can be a challenge since producing healthier options often costs more — their marinades are low-sodium, low-sugar and gluten-free.
Long-term, the couple said they want to sell their products for lower prices in neighborhoods that lack nearby grocery stores with healthy options. They said they also hope to serve as entrepreneurial role models for disadvantaged black youth.
“As a kid, you hear, ‘You can be anything you want.’ But if you are in an area where you only see people struggling ... you don’t tend to believe it. ... We try to be very visible to everyone so they see that we are real people and that it is possible,” Monique said.
Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.
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Charleston Gourmet Burger Co.