Friday, May 24, 2013 6:26 PM
Published on: Thursday, March 14, 2013
By Donna Broadway
When Ron “Gator Ron” Griffith was in his final stages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and could barely talk, he made his wife, Connie Griffith, promise to never give out his recipes.
Gator Ron was so known for his homemade Bloody Mary mix and barbeque and wing sauces, that Connie took up the task of making them for family and friends as Ron deteriorated from ALS. Shortly before his death, as a holiday gift for friends and relatives, Connie bottled wing sauce and wanted to include the recipe card attached to the bottle. This led to the promise to never give out the recipes to Ron’s sauces and mixes, and planted the seed of establishing Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes.
Ron earned the nickname “Gator Ron” because he was an avid Gator fan, and was always wearing something with his alma mater’s logo, the University of Florida Gator. Ron, who worked as a salesman, began mixing up his sauces and bloody Mary mixes in his spare time, creating his much requested final products.
With his sauces in high demand, Ron began to research professionally manufacturing and selling them, but was derailed by his ALS diagnosis.
After Ron died in 2011, Connie knew she had to make Ron’s dream come true. With Ron’s life insurance and help from friend Debbie Kaufmann, Connie began marketing Ron’s products under the name Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes.
“After he passed away, I did some reflection and I took it as a sign that he talked about it throughout his illness, and if I had not done it, I would always wonder if it would have been successful. And what better way to honor his memory? I called Debbie, my former neighbor, and asked her to start the business with me, and here we are,” said Connie.
In six months of selling product, the company has exceeded expectations in sales, but it hasn’t been easy. Although Connie had entrepreneurial experience with Up Up & Away, a balloon delivery business, she found starting a food service business to be difficult. “I had a balloon business 20 years ago. I needed a tank of helium and a car to deliver the balloons. That was it. With food, you must have FDA approval for everything, licenses are required for storage facilities, labels, and a lot of other things. There is a lot more you have to do with a food product, not to mention that there is a lot of competition. Breaking into gourmet markets and restaurants can be challenging, but because our products are high quality, gluten free, dairy free, and kosher, as well as free of GMOs and HVPs, we’ve had a lot of interest,” said Connie. “We’ve only had the products bottled for six months so we're a very new company. We ship, deliver, sell, sample, market. Basically, the two of us do everything,” Debbie added.
Ron’s dream also included finding a cure for ALS. Ron’s father was diagnosed with ALS while he was in college and Ron came home to help his mom take care of his father.
“He always said he wanted to find a treatment for ALS because of what his father went through and he was sorry he wasn’t able to fulfill that dream. Now that dream is for both of them and Debbie’s father in law and her husband’s aunt, both of whom also died of ALS,” Connie said.
A percentage of Gator Ron’s sales proceeds go to ALS research and Debbie and Connie will present a check at the Packard Center for ALS Research’s Fiesta 5K, being held in Baltimore this May.