NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the latest in our series: What Do People Do All Day?
EICHER: WORLD Radio’s Jenny Lind Schmitt takes us to visit a northwest entrepreneur.
JENNY LIND SCHMITT: Richard Mullen grew up with with three brothers. His mom was a good cook, so there weren’t usually leftovers.
MULLEN: I made sure I came in from playing outside, because if you miss out, you miss out. My mom coined this phrase: If they ate it all up, kitchen’s closed.
Not wanting to miss dinner, Mullen would hang out in the kitchen watching his mom cook. Those moments gave him a love of good flavors and good company.
Years later, Mullen started reproducing his favorite dishes for his wife and children. Then one evening he hatched a vision for a business.
AUDIO: Sounds of pans banging around.
MULLEN: It didn’t start out with sauces really, It started out with seasonings.
So Mullen went down to the local co-op and bought all the spices that looked interesting.
MULLEN: I just started mixing stuff up. And I came up with a couple of different spice blends and went to taste them, and they taste probably a little bit better than dirt. But I’m a determined person, so I kept going.
Mullen kept trying different combinations and kept a journal of what worked and what didn’t. Then he bottled his blends. A graphic designer friend made some labels. Then he took the bottles to his favorite butcher shops.
MULLEN: I would go into those butcher shops with passion: “This is the best product you will ever have.” And I might add, the products that I went into these stores were wife-approved.
One butcher after another started buying his spice blends.
MULLEN: That first case, I thought I’d made it. That I’d hit the jackpot. Not knowing that I had a long way to go, and a LOT to learn.
But Mullen was willing to learn.
At the gleaming industrial kitchen outside Seattle where he prepares and bottles his sauces, Mullen talks while he cooks me dinner. His 8-year-old son Samson keeps us company on the other side of the counter.
AUDIO: Richard explaining what he’s doing, pouring teriyaki sauce onto shaved beef. “Fresh ginger, fresh garlic…”
After sales of his spice rubs, customers started asking for a barbecue sauce. So Mullen set about making one. I get to try it tonight, along with his Seattleyaki teriyaki sauce–the latest product from “Richard’s Too Good Sauces.”
Wearing a white chef’s jacket, Mullen marinates some beef in the teriyaki sauce while he prepares the rice and broccoli.
MULLEN: Don’t mind me, I’m just going to chop some broccoli
AUDIO: Sound of sizzling in the pan
At first, learning to navigate USDA food regulations proved a big challenge.
Mullen says the folks at government agencies were helpful—if you knew the right questions to ask. So he did a lot of googling to learn. He also asked the butchers a lot of questions.
AUDIO: sounds of sizzling – Doesn’t that look good? And the smell?
Then one day, a customer returned a product with a faulty seal. That led to more questions to—and from—the Department of Agriculture.
MULLEN: They started asking me: Did you do this? And then the sweat bead starts running down my forehead…cuz it’s like, oh, I never knew…
Mullen took everything off the market, swallowing the cost, and asked himself if it was worth it.
MULLEN: That was the defining moment for me. Am I gonna quit? Am I going to give up? Because I can. I can totally give up right now.
But Mullen really wanted to succeed. So he made a list of what he needed to learn and started filling in the gaps: He took classes in microbiology and food preservation, and made more calls.
MULLEN: I know they got sick of me. All the departments got sick of me, cuz I was that guy: Hey, it’s Richard again! Got another question: How do you do this? I wanna do this. Do I have to fill out the form? I really took that time, after I cried in the shower, to really get an understanding.
Now he had a good product and knowledge of the food industry. But he’d used up all his capital. He was broke.
So he launched a Kickstarter campaign and quickly raised more than he needed to restart his business. That was three years ago. And he hasn’t looked back.
Deb, the kitchen manager, stops by and Mullen gives her a sample of the beef.
AUDIO: Deb makes sounds of yummy eating and chit chat….
When he’s not cooking and bottling his sauces, Mullen spends his time marketing. At the beginning, that meant driving around Washington state with a trunk full of sauce and a sales pitch.
MULLEN: I never take myself too seriously. That should be a prereq to talk to people in awkward situations. You’ve got to be willing to fall straight on your face and then pick your face up and say, uh, I left you some sauce on the counter. Laughs…
Mullen is obsessed with his product. If he makes a batch perfectly, but it just doesn’t taste right, it goes in the trash.
AUDIO: Getting the plates out, sounds of plates coming off the shelf, silverware, setting the table
Finally, dinner’s ready. We set the table and Mullen serves up.
AUDIO: Getting the plates out, Okay, so here goes. Mmmm. That’s really good. Samson: That’s like the best you’ve made…. Is it the best I’ve made? Really?
Mullen still works a day job in healthcare. He has family and church commitments. Finding time for everything is hard. While we finish our dinner, he takes a call from his wife and says goodnight prayers with his 4-year-old daughter.
MULLEN: Father in the name of Jesus, bless Claire. We cast out every unclean thing that would live in her on her or around her. We ask that you just give her peace as she rests. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Love, you Dada. Love you, too. Bye bye.
Richard Mullen’s products are in stores throughout Washington state. He came up with the “Too Good” name after watching people respond to the taste:
MULLEN: I was trying to capture when they’d be like: “Man! That is so…Man, it’s just…Aw, I love it!” All those reactions, it’s like, how do I capture that? And I was just like: Too Good.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Jenny Lind Schmitt reporting from Woodinville, Washington.