‘I saw Rachel Ray, I saw Emeril, I saw Paul Newman — nothing that really spoke to me as a Black urban professional,’ said Ed Brunson, owner of Brunson Food Group. ‘None of them barbecue the way we do.’
BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Small business owners create new opportunities throughout communities, creating jobs and economic growth. In recognition of that support, The Weekly Challenger is introducing a new series highlighting small business owners throughout the county in partnership with the Saturday Shoppes.
Today, meet Ed Brunson, owner of Brunson Food Group. Find out how a trip to the grocery store left him so aggravated that the beginnings of his business started that day in his kitchen.
Brunson Food Group
It started as a way to thank his mother-in-law for her support and for sharing her home with him and her daughter after they married.
“It was 12 years ago; I didn’t have anything, and I wanted a way to thank my mother-in-law. But I did have a smoker,” said Brunson. “I wanted to make her something nice.”
He planned on using the smoker for a rack of ribs and headed to the store for a rub to use for seasoning, but when he got there, Brunson didn’t find anything that seemed to fit him.
“I saw Rachel Ray, I saw Emeril, I saw Paul Newman — nothing that really spoke to me as a Black urban professional,” Brunson said. “None of them barbecue the way we do.”
After striking out at the store, Brunson said he went home, somewhat irritated by the lack of representation in this space.
“I went on a rant in the kitchen and started throwing seasonings in a bowl,” he said. “My wife came in halfway through and tasted what I had put together. She told me it tasted great and that I could really be on to something.”
He made the ribs using the rub he invented, and his wife took a few leftovers to work.
“Someone in her office smelled it down the hall, gave her $100, and said, ‘Whatever that was (on the ribs), they needed a pan of it the next week.’”
After that, life took center stage, and Brunson and his wife began to have children. While the rub was always in the back of his mind, he made work and career his focus so he and his wife could provide for their family.
Then the pandemic hit, and the father of three was laid off — twice. He turned to his rub to make a living. He had dabbled with the rub over the years, and when he got a call from someone who had tasted it and told him he had a good product and needed to bottle it immediately, he knew it was time to make his business a priority.
Brunson calls his line BrunRub, and it consists of four barbecue rubs: original, hot, sweet, sweet heat and an original season salt.
And even though he is now working and pursuing the business simultaneously, Brunson still takes time to make the business a priority, attending vendor events throughout the area, including the Saturday Shoppes, a showcase for small businesses in the St. Petersburg area.
Brunson said while he is proud of the fact that he’s had orders from at least 40 states, including Alaska, Hawaii, Texas and the Carolinas, and internationally with orders from France, he is humbled to be able to say this international brand is made right here in St. Petersburg.
“That is very important to me,” he asserted. “I don’t just want to succeed for me, but for the City of St. Petersburg. I love this city, and I don’t want to run my brand from anywhere else — not Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Largo, or Tampa Bay, but right here in St. Petersburg.”
Brunson knows the chance to make his brand a household name in the city he loves is a chance that doesn’t come a long for African Americans every day, especially in a niche market like this.
“We don’t get a whole lot of shots. If we have something we actually make that becomes successful, I think we should all embrace it, get behind it,” the 46-year-old said. “It’s a cool thing.”
To find out more about BrunRub, visit the website www.brunrub.com. Also, drop by the Tropicana Field and Grand Villa Markets to pick up some seasonings from Ed Brunson and visit the more than 1,000 vendors as they sell their wares.
Log on to saturdayshoppes.com to view all upcoming market events.