When NFL tight end Reggie Kelly retired, he put down the football and picked up a saucepan.
After a 13-year career playing for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons, Kelly's new playbook includes recipes for jambalaya sauce, honeyed salsa and apple butter. He created the products based on old family recipes and is now selling them online and in Walmarts across the South.
"I come from a long line of cooks. Not chefs, but cooks," the Aberdeen, Miss., native. said. "My family always told me, 'When you're cooking, do it with love, so that first-time visitors will feel welcome and at home.'"
It was while opening his home to a group of youth football players that Kelly had the idea to start a food product line. He and his wife, Sheila, hosted a football camp in Aberdeen and invited local kids as well as Kelly's NFL friends and coaches to participate. And as any good Southern hosts would do, the Kellys cooked for them all.
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When everyone raved about the soulful cooking, Kelly got to thinking.
"I know that a lot of my teammates get to experience so many great food options from traveling so much, and for them to say that our food was really exceptional and unique, I knew that we were on to something and we needed to take advantage of it," he said.
Four years later, in 2011, KYVAN products hit the shelves. The name is a mash-up of Kelly's children's names, Kyla and Kavan.
Kelly gets spices and herbs from farmers in Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky, the latter of which Kelly became familiar with while playing for the Bengals in nearby Cincinnati.
The product line is mostly sauce- and condiment-based, with salsa, barbecue sauce, jambalaya sauce, apple butter, blackberry honey, rubs and seasonings. Sweet potato and pumpkin purees are coming soon.
"When you start a food line, those are the top sellers," Kelly said. "You have to capitalize on those particular products. The barbecue sauces are big, especially in the South."
KYVAN products are available in Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia so far, Kelly said. They are in more than 60 Walmarts in South Carolina, including Beaufort, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Greenville. They are also sold on Amazon and on Kelly's website.
KYVAN's best-seller is the honey apple salsa, Kelly said. Like all KYVAN products, it is all natural with a short and easy-to-understand ingredient list.
It's sweet with a peppery kick and a smoky finish. "Salsa with soul," is how Kelly describes it.
"It will jazz up any meal," he said. "There's nothing I won't use this salsa for, except maybe desserts. But if you give me a minute I might think of something."
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.