WEBSTER SPRINGS, WV – Thirteen years ago, Angie and Dee Cowger converted a three-bay car wash in Webster Springs, West Virginia, into a USDA approved production facility where they could manufacture chili. Specifically, a century-old, family chili recipe made famous at the couple’s restaurant, The Custard Stand, which opened in 1991 and serves the chili as a topping on hot dogs.
“We make Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili with 100 percent ground beef from a century-old, family recipe with a secret blend of spices and quality ingredients,” Cowger said. “Our slow-cook recipe has a mild, slightly sweet flavor profile that stands on its own or can be jazzed up with your favorite spice or ingredients. The chili also tops more than hot dogs… it can be used on fries, nachos, rice, scrambled eggs or in any casserole calling for a meat sauce.”
A few years later, Cowger created the recipe for Custard Stand Chili Soup, made with 100 percent ground beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, green chilies and that secret blend of spices. The soup and hot dog chili are sold online and served at The Custard Stand restaurants (the couple opened a second location in 2009, and franchise owners in West Virginia have since opened four more.)
Seeking to expand availability of the products nationwide, the Cowgers pitched Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili and Custard Stand Chili Soup on “Shark Tank” this past February.
“We want anyone, anywhere looking to buy a great chili to be able to pick up our product in a store’s meat or frozen food sections,” Cowger said. “We were looking for a ‘shark’ to help us open the doors to new retailers and food service venues.”
The couple sought $400,000 in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the business. While the investors enjoyed tasting the chili, none offered a deal. Cowger described the experience as “gut wrenching.”
“We weren’t prepared to not get an offer,” she said. “We were prepared if we didn’t make a deal, but we had hoped to have the opportunity to determine if we wanted the deal. The tank is a tough space. Each of the sharks calls your name and wants an answer to his or her question, like bees buzzing flowers. You try to determine who to respond to and in what order the questions came.
“It was a beneficial experience and one we would certainly do all over again. We would just be a little more prepared, in case a deal wasn’t offered.”
Though the company didn’t score a deal on “Shark Tank,” wholesale and retail sales have increased 40 percent since the episode aired.
“We have shipped orders to every state, and our online sales increased about 10,000 percent,” Cowger said. “We have secured additional distributors and placed product with many new accounts.
“Additionally, 30 new Sam’s Clubs now carry Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili. Brand recognition continues to grow by leaps and bounds. We have added employees at our processing facility.”
Her advice to entrepreneurs?
“Believe 100 percent that your product is the best product in the marketplace, and be passionate about that belief while representing your product,” she said. “You cannot expect others to get behind your product if you aren’t passionate about it. Don’t be afraid of hearing ‘no.’ You need six to eight no’s to get the next yes. Honor any commitment that you make.”