When Jay Ducote first jotted down notes about his lunch escapades and formed them into a blog in 2009, he had no idea his musings would lead to the evolution of a successful epicurean enterprise. But through Ducote’s hard work, dedication, and perseverance, that is exactly what happened. Ducote’s blog, Bite and Booze, led to a food-related talk radio show by the same name, which led to video production, a stint on Fox’s reality show Master Chef, and ultimately a second place finish on the popular Food Network Star last summer.
With a following of thousands of foodie fans, Ducote manages two businesses, promotes a product line, makes guest appearances, writes content for his blog and social media sites, and in the middle of all that, he took time to tell Thrive magazine his story.
Explain your transition from blogger to successful entrepreneur.
The blog started out as just a hobby and a way to pass time. As the blog took off and developed readership, that was cool, but I still didn’t see it as a business. That changed in 2011 when I got into some other opportunities – the show Master Chef on Fox, my Bite and Booze radio show. The radio show was the catalyst I needed, because I had to pay for the airtime. The only way for me to do that was to go out and find sponsors and advertisers. That’s what turned my hobby into a business. Once I started going down that path, I realized there was more to it. There was a business model I could follow. By the end of 2011, I had quit my day job and did the Bite and Booze blog, radio show, and video production full-time. At that point, it was just me and I just needed to make enough money to survive. I tried to figure out ways to grow the business. I got the idea to do a product line, but I got so busy I didn’t have time to focus on the barbeque sauce until 2014.
How would you define the keys to your success?
For me, success comes from a passion. I found something I really enjoy doing; a message I really enjoy sharing. I wake up every day and I’m excited to be a part of it. I try to celebrate Louisiana food, Louisiana culture. I bring that with me wherever I go. Consistency is the other key. Be consistent with whatever you are putting out, whether it’s a product, a service, or a message. I have a great team of three fulltime employees -- Blair Lupe, Charles Pierce, and Sydney Blanchard, and three interns who have helped me get the business to where it is today.
Briefly describe the process of building your brand.
When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing with branding. It’s something I pay a lot more attention to now. The way I tie everything together I think is what sets me apart and has made everything unique in my world. The blog, the radio show, social media, appearances, my products – they all tie together and promote each other. That’s been a part of my overall branding. There’s a synergy between the things I do.
Tell me about the competition on Food Network Star. You earned second place out of a field of twelve competitors. What did you learn from that experience?
The show and the experience competing on it was one of the most challenging and intense things I’ve ever gone through. We were in Los Angeles, completely isolated from family, friends, and our businesses. No communication with the outside world while we filmed the show, which lasted about six weeks. No cell phones, no laptops, no television. It took me two weeks to adjust to that, then I started to appreciate being cut off from all forms of communication and at that point, it helped me focus on the challenge at hand without the distractions we have in our normal everyday lives. I could focus on getting the job done and doing the best I could on the show. Every challenge we were given was a surprise. We knew nothing in advance. That was intense and stressful. I fought through that and decided my attitude would be to enjoy the competition, the element of surprise, and have fun with it. The challenges were varied and what we had to cook on the show was different every time; a different theme, different set of ingredients or set of limitations that were thrown on us at the last second. I learned to have confidence in myself and my own abilities. I was very successful on the show, just being myself, with my style of food and my style of presentation, the way I talk about food and celebrate Louisiana culture. The show definitely helped me build that level of confidence that I can be doing that on a national level.
You currently market a barbeque sauce, a molasses mustard, and a regional white wine under your label Hug Jay D. How do you formulate the recipes for your products?
The product line takes a good bit of recipe testing and development to get my products exactly right. The barbeque sauce took 20-something different tries before I was happy with the result. Then I had to work with a manufacturer and tweak it some more. But the initial recipe testing was just me in the kitchen weighing everything out by the gram and trying to pay attention and measure. The molasses mustard was something I made on Food Network Star and became my second product. That required about ten different variations. The wine is a collaboration between me and Landry Vineyards in West Monroe, Louisiana. It’s made with a grape they grow on their property called Blanc Du Bois. This collaboration allows me to be a part of the Louisiana wine scene and to help Louisiana grape growers and wineries promote the good wine that does come out of the state.
What is your personal favorite food and drink?
I’m a big barbeque guy. Ribs are usually my favorite barbeque to eat. I love chowing down on barbecue spare ribs. And brisket. And I love all the Cajun food I get to eat. Fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried chicken, raw oysters. I’m a big craft beer guy. That’s my number one beverage of choice. I try to drink local beer wherever I am.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that I get to do something different every day. I thrive on not having a routine, not knowing what’s going to happen next, enjoying the journey that I’m on, and appreciating the unknown. Every day is different and it’s not necessarily as expected. No two days are ever the same. It’s never routine, or boring, or mundane. I get to make cool stuff happen.
What’s next for Bite and Booze and Hug Jay D?
What's next is always a tricky question because I really don't know. I hope for continued growth in all facets of my business. I'm hoping for increased product sales and distribution. I’ll be launching a barbeque dry rub this spring. I'm hoping to do more traveling, speaking, and filming. And I'm just going to see where this crazy journey takes me. One of my favorite things about what I do is not always knowing what's next but to just keep pushing forward anyway and enjoying the adventure.
For more information or to order products, see biteandbooze.com or hugjayd.com