This expanding line of sauces and rubs will have you coveed for grilling season
Lillie’s of Charleston participates in Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator program, which offers marketing services, such as producing videos, for certified Black-owned businesses.
When Tracey Richardson was a young girl watching her father Hank Tisdale give away his famed barbecue and hot sauces at his Rib Shack on King Street, she and her sister, Kellye Wicker, thought: “We should bottle that! We’re always giving it away, and it’s like money walking out of the door!”
It would take more than 20 years before they acted on that impulse and launched Lillie’s of Charleston in 2001. The sisters named the company not for their father, but for his Aunt Lillie, who grew up in Kingstree and later moved to Philadelphia. As a child, their father had spent his summers in Pennsylvania with his aunt, and years later when he was stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Aunt Lillie would host the whole family for Sunday dinners. To Richardson and her sister, their great-aunt was the epitome of hospitality.
“My father is still around. He’s 84 and so thrilled with us taking his three core recipes and expanding on them,” says Richardson. “He likes to be on the sidelines admiring all the growth.”
Until five years ago, Lillie’s was a side gig for Richardson and her husband, Jamel. Then, a concurrence of events—George Floyd’s murder, the pandemic, and the #MeToo movement—put the spotlight on businesses owned by women and African Americans. The time was right, Richardson realized, to go “all in” on the specialty foods company, so she left her job in nonprofit arts management to become the full-time CEO of Lillie’s. A contract with Compass Group, which provides food services to hospitality and facility clients across the country, helped sales jump 60 percent, strengthening a long-standing relationship with Sysco and allowing the business to grow from regional to national distribution. They also enrolled in Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator program, which offers financial resources, business coaching, and marketing and advertising support.
In addition to the original mild mustard barbecue sauce, hot sauce, and spice blend with names nodding to Gullah culture, Lillie’s has recently introduced “Chucktown Stinger,” a hot sauce combined with honey, as well as a line of three “Gullah Pop” popcorn varieties seasoned with their spices.
Richardson’s success in consumer packaged goods has led to an invitation to speak at this month’s FAB conference for women in the food and beverage industry.
And now that the summer grilling season is here, she is focusing on promoting her products for cookouts, such as “SweetSmoke,” dry spice rub, which she suggests sprinkling on a pork butt. “We also have a lemon pepper that you use on brined chicken wings,” Richardson says. “When you put that on, it creates a nice crispy skin for the wings. And then you can finish both of them off with our ‘Hab Mussy’ mustard barbecue sauce to get a nice caramelization.”
Hearing customers’ positive responses has been rewarding. “When people are excited to meet you because you are the owner and they feel like they are right there in the kitchen with you, it doesn’t get any better than that,” says Richardson.
BY THE NUMBERS
Watch as Lillie's cofounder Tracey Richardson shares the story behind her sauces in a video produced for Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator program.