State-made ketchup debuts in Little Rock
It seemed too obvious for it not to exist.
So thought Amber DavisTanner, who was on vacation in Oregon last year when she noticed nearly every restaurant featured locally made ketchup with tomatoes grown in the state. She recalled growing up on an Arkansas farm where her grandparents grew tomatoes every year.
“I was like, Arkansas has amazing tomatoes. Why don’t we have Arkansas ketchup?” she said.
That was the beginning of Arkansas Ketchup Co., a Little Rock business started by Davis-Tanner and her friend, John Crowley. Their 12-ounce bottles now sit on the shelves of several Little Rock stores and restaurants and contribute to the city’s growing local food scene.
When Davis-Tanner told several friends about her idea, Crowley pushed her to make it happen. Both enjoyed cooking, but neither had much experience with sauces. They started tweaking recipes they found online in their kitchens and testing them on spouses and friends. Eventually, they found what they thought was the right balance of sweet and tangy, the right mix of spices.
The final product includes tomatoes from Little Rock Tomato, a distributor that sources from farms around the state. The latest batch
in the ketchup are from Monticello. The recipe also contains honey, which Davis-Tanner and Crowley get from Richard’s Apiaries, a bee farm and honey outlet near Benton.
Davis-Tanner started taking bottles to specialty stores in Little Rock like The Green Corner Store and Heights Corner Market, which she said were eager to stock it, with The Green Corner Store hosting an Arkansas Ketchup Co. launch party Saturday.
Word of the ketchup spread among friends and on social media. It sold out at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market. The business gained enough support to fund its first official batch of nearly 350 bottles through a Kickstarter online crowd-funding campaign that surpassed its goal of $5,000 in May.
Making bigger batches and selling their product to stores and restaurants meant Davis-Tanner and Crowley needed a bigger kitchen with a commercial rating to comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations. For each batch, they drive to Fayetteville to use the Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the University of Arkansas.
Crowley said he hopes a resource like the center eventually will exist for food producers in Little Rock.
Eric Herget, who owns Heights Corner Market, said some producers of local foods make up for the lack of infrastructure by using the market’s kitchen or a church kitchen with a commercial rating. He said local producers are eager to have a place to sell their products, and he’s happy to support other Arkansans.
“We’ll talk to everybody,” he said.
On Saturday, friends and passers-by mingled at The Green Corner Store, where they sampled Arkansas Ketchup Co.’s condiment on fries and hush puppies from The Root Cafe across the street.
Ashley Pettus stopped by with her mother after seeing the event on Facebook. Pettus, who owns Lumi Beauty Studio on Scott Street, said she tries to keep up with other local businesses.
“I feel like it’s getting better for sure,” Pettus said of the small-business scene in Little Rock. “We are a small community, but people get in the mind-frame that there’s nothing to do in Little Rock, there’s no opportunity, and there is.
“So when people stop thinking that and they do support small businesses and local businesses, then we’ll grow that way.”
Carol Ann Crowley and Mark Tanner fill sample cups with artisan ketchup Saturday at The Green Corner Store in Little Rock during the launch party for Arkansas Ketchup Co. The company is one of many in the state that focuses on using Arkansas-grown ingredients.