Andrew Holes is the founder of J. Wilbur Foods which makes three types of barbecue sauce as well as a bloody mary drink flavoring. Ian Terry/The Herald

Bothell man uses dad’s barbecue recipe to kick start business

Andrew Holes of J. Wilbur foods has a lot of enthusiasm for his brand, but it wasn’t an easy start. As a part-time entrepreneur and full-time stay-at-home father, he spent the first five years of the company’s launch in self-taught research and development mixed with building the brand.

“I was in the mortgage business, a loan originator. I lost my job in late 2008, just like everybody else,” Holes said.

His wife managed to find a job, but since he didn’t have any immediate prospects, he began to pursue bringing his father’s barbecue sauce to market as a part-time launch. Building the barbecue sauce was a challenge, because the big-box brands had low-price markets cornered — so to build a place for his own sauce, he decided to push quality to the forefront. J. Wilbur’s sauces are gluten free, Holes took additional steps to make sure that the barbecue sauce no longer has high fructose corn syrup.

He has the barbecue sauce and Bloody Mary mix made at outside food services providers and keeps a warehouse for the product. That allows him to focus on marketing from his home in Bothell.

The barbecue sauce itself has a story, spelled out on J. Wilbur Foods’ website. Andrew’s father, James Wilbur Holes, had cultivated a homemade barbecue with bite after a career as a travelling salesman through Memphis, and shared it with friends and family. The namesake of the barbecue died in 2002, before his son had really considered bringing the zingy sauce to market.

There are now three flavors in the J. Wilbur brand — the original, an Applewood Smoked flavor that is sweeter and little less intense, a spice rub in keepsake tins and a Bloody Mary mix that Andrew and his father never saw coming.

Holes and his wife had some friends and family on a retreat in Walla Walla back in 2008. Andrew, of course, made baby back ribs with his father’s recipe, which went over quite famously with his friends.

“I was sitting on the deck, having a beer, when one of my friends came out of the kitchen with a hand behind his back.” His friend presented a Bloody Mary made with the barbecue sauce garnished with a pork rib, of course, and the rest is history.

“I’ve built my business around the idea that if I could get it in people’s mouths, they would buy it again.”

Holes visited trade shows, county fairs, and other venues to make it happen. Without direct retail marketing experience, he found that there was a lot to challenge him in learning a new trade.

“I think that if I had to do it over, I think I would have worked in the industry first. It’s not just about supply and demand. It’s a great product, it’s just so good. And then you find a retailer to pick it up – that’s supply and demand.”

“But once you’re in there,” he continues, “you gotta grease the wheels. You have to pay for shelf space where you are, because most of the prime spots are already paid for.”

But he’s certainly found his way into shelf space now — slotting fees and free fills, free product to test at new markets — are now things that he budgets.

According to Holes, there are more than 600 locations carrying his barbecue sauce or other products, including some locations in California, Oregon, and Alaska. The J. Wilbur brand barbecue sauce can be found at various locations such as Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertson’s, QFC, and Whole Foods, just to name a few.

Wilbur continues to believe that his father’s legacy will spread, working on early concepts for a twist on the current spice rub, and exploring new markets in northern California. Additionally, J. Wilbur has sponsored two charities, MDA Passport to a Cure, and 10 cents of every barbecue sauce purchase goes to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Seattle Guild in honor of the namesake of the brand.

His advice to share with other would-be entrepreneurs entering a busy market: “There’s always someone there to tell you there’s no place for you, you’ll never make it. If you have a quality enough product and you do a good enough job — you have that ‘it’ factor — you can do it.”

More in Business

Courtesy photo 
                                Mercer Island financial adviser Bob Toomey recently summited Mount Shasta in California.
Financial success and mountaineering

The steps to achieving financial success mirror mountain climbing.

The new Bothell Friday Market will run from 3-8 p.m., every Friday through Sept. 27. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
New Bothell Friday Market opens

Bothell Friday Market will run every Friday through Sept. 27

Kiddie Academy locations on the Eastside win national recognition

Six locally owned educational child care centers received an award for brand excellence and customer service.

Selection and steady sales characterize local market

Buyers can enjoy additional selection this summer as they look for the home of their choice.

The Bothell Kenmore Chamber of Commerce honored the Country Village owner as member of the month after it closed at the beginning of June. Kailan Manandic / staff photo
Eastside business booms with summer options

Locals can visit numerous new developments this summer, all within Eastside communities.

First & Main Design Market offers a broad assortment of vintage and artisan built furniture pieces. Each piece is specifically and carefully selected. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
First & Main Design Market opens in Bothell

The new destination store offers retail furniture, vintage treasures, and professional interior design services.

Just Get Me Started founder Suzanne Tseng participates in one of the weekly workshops that taught locals how to create intricate chalk art.
Kenmore’s Tseng helps locals ‘just get started’

Suzanne Tseng launched her business Just Get Me Started to help locals pick up hobbies and skills.

From left: Craig Olson, Joan Schrammeck, and Paula Paula DelGiudice with a solar panel. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
Little Bit in Redmond goes solar

Northwest Electric and Solar (NWES) of Kenmore donates a solar energy system to the therapeutic riding center.

Microsoft reveals project criteria for $500 million affordable housing funds

The company will soon accept applications for projects related to affordable housing on the Eastside.

Local real estate market brings more opportunities for buyers

Homebuyers are also benefiting from lower interest rates, which are currently are less than four percent.

Maurita Colburn, the chamber’s Member and Community Relations manager, welcomes Country Village owner Leeann Tesorieri as she receives a standing ovation from local business owners. Kailan Manandic/staff photo
Bothell Kenmore Chamber honors Country Village

The chamber awarded Country Village owner, Leeann Tesorieri, as member of the month.

Kailan Manandic/staff photo 
                                Bothell’s newest animal hospital opens with a joint celebration hosted by the Bothell Kenmore Chamber of Commerce.
Twin Pines Animal Hospital offers new vet services in Bothell

The animal hospital had been operating in the community for years before opening a new location.