An NFL locker room is a true melting pot with athletes from diverse backgrounds interacting. A quarterback from Southern California. A running back from Ohio. A tight end from Aberdeen, Miss.
In that scenario, the tight end from Mississippi was Reggie Kelly and it was his family’s Southern cooking that made an impression on teammates.
So, when his 13-year playing career with the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals ended after the 2011 NFL season, Reggie and his wife Sheila embarked on a new journey. They launched KYVAN (named for their children Kylan and Kavan), a collection of Southern soul foods including salsas, jams, and more.
We recently chatted with Reggie by telephone to get the inside scoop on his rapidly growing food business, which is now available online at Scott’s Marketplace!
The DRIVE: How did the idea for KYVAN take root?
Reggie: My wife and I love giving back to our community, so we put on free football camps in our hometown for kids who show academic excellence. The kids get free food and free gear and some of my NFL teammates join us.
After those camps, in true Southern tradition, our family would cook great Southern food for my teammates to enjoy. They raved about the family recipes. They were the ones who told me I had to take the recipes to market. I was hesitant but they insisted on it. So I rounded up all my old family recipes and the rest is history.
The DRIVE: How did your teammates from outside the South react?
Reggie: I had teammates from all over the country – Chicago, New York, the west coast. There’s one common denominator that draws people to good food. When good food touches your soul, it moves you. That’s what my teammates felt and that’s why we call it our soul collection. We want our consumer to feel they’re a part of our household. It’s just good, down-south, wholesome food.
The DRIVE: What is it about Southern cooking that appeals to you?
Reggie: I love the effort, time, and love that goes into a great Southern meal. In the South we say, “She put her foot in it.” It’s not literal. It means that she really went the extra mile to make it delicious for her family, friends, or visitors. Southern meals are prepared with love. Lots of detail, plus lots of seasoning and flavor. It’s the type of meal that you can really enjoy with family.
The DRIVE: Where should someone who’s new to Southern food start?
Reggie: The perfect product to start with is our KYVAN Honey Apple Salsa. Here we have the perfect blend of premium honey and apples to deliver that sweet taste upfront without losing that nice salsa bite at the end. If you’re an American, you have to love apples and you have to love honey.
The DRIVE: Sounds delicious! What did you learn about being an entrepreneur as an NFL player?
Reggie: Pay attention to the details. If you do the little things right, then the big things will happen for you. We always look at the big picture, but sometimes we fail to realize that’s just the canvas. We need to paint the little things first to complete the masterpiece. In business, that means customer service, marketing, and hiring the right people. Those little things are what make big things like sales, volume, brand awareness, and reputation happen. Do the little things right and the big things will follow.
Thank you to Reggie for chatting with us about how his football career inspired him to start an entirely new, delicious venture: KYVAN. Be sure to check out his products on Scott’s Marketplace.