Never stop learning. Sharpening your axe (or mind, in this case) is crucial. If you’re weak in an area, surround yourself with experts who have experience in that field and learn how they operate.
Matt has an awful case of ADD, which seems to play out nicely for his customers… He’ll never be happy with just one or two flavors to choose from! If he were backed into a corner, and forced to choose, his two favorite spreads would be the Honey and Cinnamon and the Brandy Soaked Bordeaux Cherry spreads. His favorite meal is beef brisket served over whipped potatoes and haricot verts, from Easy Bistro & Bar, on Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga.
Where did the idea for The Chattanooga Butter Company come from?
As a traveling electrician, I regularly found time to stop at local “mom and pop” or “meat and three” restaurants whenever possible for lunch. In eastern Tennessee, there weren’t many small country restaurants that I hadn’t visited at least once or twice, but when I began working in western Tennessee and Kentucky, I found all sorts of new and exciting options that I had never experienced back home, in Chattanooga. One of these “new options” was flavored butters. Particularly, strawberry flavored butters. Generally, it’d be served with warm bread as you waited for your meal. This was completely new to me, but I found myself falling in love with these new strawberry butter spreads. They usually weren’t made with any special ingredients… typically margarine and some kind of artificial strawberry flavoring… but I was fascinated with them, nonetheless.
I found myself craving these butters to the point of dreaming about them when I got home in Chattanooga on the weekends. Unfortunately, “strawberry butter” simply wasn’t a thing in Chattanooga, TN. Luckily though, I had a great friend at the time who was also a wonderfully talented chef. We began experimenting, and used all-real ingredients. We were blown away! Margarine and strawberry flavoring was pretty dang good… but real butter with real strawberries? THAT was something incredible! I knew then and there that if nobody was going to offer something like that in Chattanooga, that I needed to do it myself. It was just too incredible of a product to not be made available. We began testing with new flavors, and after much deliberation and a few “butter-tasting parties” later, we released our original line of butters, which included sweets like Honey Cinnamon and Brandy Soaked Bordeaux Cherry Butter Spreads, to our best-selling savories like Roasted Garlic, Candied Maple Bacon, or our all-time steak topper favorite, Sriracha, Shallot, and Scallion Butter Spreads.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Today, we run a full-time commercial kitchen space, an event center, and the butter company all in the same spot. It can be daunting at times, but I certainly find time to stop in and taste the Sweet Tea Butter Spread from time to time to make sure quality standards are being maintained!
Finding new retail stores, health food supermarkets, restaurants, and bakeries to carry our products is always fun, so I try to take on that role whenever possible. It’s easy for us to approach chefs and show them what we can do for their restaurant, and the typical initial reply is something along the lines of “compound butters are easy… any novice chef can make those.” And that’s absolutely true, but I’ve found that, particularly with restaurants, a high turnover is pretty common, and consistency goes hand in hand with quality foods in a restaurant, as most good business owners know. Once they get a chance to try our products and realize what incredible and versatile tastes can come from flavors so bold, yet simple, it’s easy to win them over. We can save them time and provide that consistency, flexibility, and variety that they need to cater to a wide range of flavor choices and palettes, while maintaining their own unique individuality as a restaurant.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I listen to friends and family and lean on their experience when they have suggestions. I know better than to think I have all of the answers. I try to approach all new ideas with the same enthusiasm and open-mindedness that I would want from someone else.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Competitive Cooking! I love getting a team of experienced chefs together and going toe to toe against others… I’ve found it very exciting and thoroughly enjoy tasting all of their food afterwards! Our team competed in the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama this last November, and we won 8th place in the Chef category on our first time trying. I don’t want to brag, but… well, yes… yes I do! We weren’t expecting top ten, but we sure were proud and grateful to have been acknowledged with the honor!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m quite OCD and methodical, generally speaking. I’m likely NOT more productive, but I try to be very thorough in everything I do. I tend to work out all of the kinks and details, (and in this case, I work very hard to perfect a new flavor) before going to production with it. I feel like, if I had only one talent, it would be seeking out and occasionally improving upon good food. I’m a good taste-tester, if I do say so myself!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn to cook!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Hydrogenated oils and chemical preservatives permeating the majority of American foods are one of the leading causes of cancer and long-term health issues in Americans today. Many of these unnatural preservatives that big-box food manufacturers use in the US today are illegal in many European and Asian countries. They know that they cause long term health problems, and continue to use them anyhow in the US. Food manufacturers have to actively choose to eliminate them from their products.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Continue to learn, and continue to ask questions. When I don’t know how to do something, I learn how to do it by turning to my podcasts. I’m a huge Gary Vaynerchuk fanboy. Having role models and continually striving to improve oneself is absolutely imperative in business. Learn to compete with yourself.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Never stop learning. Sharpening your axe (or mind, in this case) is crucial. If you’re weak in an area, surround yourself with experts who have experience in that field and learn how they operate. You may or may not use their methods ultimately, but you can always learn from them and their mistakes.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Trying to please everyone. I do still continue to go far above and beyond for those who care to do business with my companies, and I’ve failed in the past at making everyone happy. I’ve made plenty of mistakes with orders, shipments, etc… but I LOVE being given the opportunity to correct issues and make things right. Showing our customers how much they mean to me, my business, and ultimately, my family is absolutely my top priority. Providing value upfront without asking for anything in return, and giving more than I receive every single time I have the opportunity to do so is a critical piece of who I want to be as a leader, and how I want to run my business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Learn a trade and skip college. It’s overpriced and overrated. Provide a service-based business for something you enjoy, and you’ll do well.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I rented a Yamaha Wave Runner last weekend and got to take my little girl around the lake. We had a blast. Spending money on experiences and time together with family/friends you love and care about instead of tangible items is far more valuable, in my book.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Fiverr – Any tedious work that I don’t have time to do or can’t do well yet, I can contract it out and get it done there. It can be tough to find the right quality worker at times, depending upon the job needed, but it’s greatly improved my time management and has allowed me to delegate when needed most.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Does a book series count?
Brandon Sanderson: The Stormlight Archive
1. The Way of Kings
2. Words of Radiance
The OCD, meticulous method manner in which this author writes is unparalleled. I absolutely LOVE his writing style. He does an incredible amount of world-building before beginning any of his novels, and they’re full of plot twists and witty dialogue that you simply won’t find in other novels. His ability to write from so many perspectives and intellect angles never ceases to amaze me.
What is your favorite quote?
“There’s an old saying about those who forget history. I don’t remember it, but it’s good.” – Stephen Colbert
Matt Vandergriff, entrepreneur, is CEO of The Chattanooga Butter Company, which provides tasty grass-fed butter and coconut oil blends, flavored with organic fruits and spices, without all of the hydrogenated oils and chemical preservatives typically found in most American products today. His company serves retail stores, health food supermarkets, restaurants, and bakeries, as well as the average family chef who simply wants to make a quick, healthy, and tasty meal with the confidence of eating real food, without all of the unnatural preservatives.
Prior to founding his company, Matt spent more than a decade as an electrician and tradesman for the US Air Force and Tennessee Valley Authority, the local electrical utility. The mechanical nature of the role didn’t challenge him, so he carved his own path. Today, Matt strives to find new and exciting ways to enhance foods in a natural, healthy manner, the way foods were meant to be eaten. From steaks and baked potatoes, to fish, poultry, breads and pastas, and even grilled vegetables, you can bet you’ll find a variety of butter blend flavor options to choose from with The Chattanooga Butter Company.
Matt currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Chattanooga Butter Company is a proud, active member of Pick TN, and has recently placed top ten in the 2018 World Food Championships (Chef Category) in Orange Beach, Alabama using Chattanooga Butter spreads. In his free time, you can find him playing softball, bubble soccer, hiking, trail running, boating, watching his girls play soccer, or listening to podcasts about business and life.
The Chattanooga Butter Company – “A Better Butter!”
The Chattanooga Event Center:
The Chattanooga Commercial Kitchen:
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.