Seasoned innovation: How a Fort Wayne BBQ master pivoted during the pandemic

“Ooh Wee!”

Those were the first words that came to Lacy Curry’s mind when he tasted his made-from-scratch, all-purpose seasoning for pork, fish, chicken, beef, and side dishes. So it’s only natural that he decided to name the seasoning Ooh Wee.

“I cook with love and the taste of Ooh Wee,” Curry says, quoting the tagline for his business Big Lacy’s BBQ & Catering, LLC.

Curry

Since Curry concocted his signature BBQ seasoning and started grilling for family and friends about 15 years ago, he’s had a loyal following. His sister worked in downtown Fort Wayne at the time, so he started catering for her business and other downtown clients who heard about his food by word of mouth.

By the time Curry took his grill to the streets in 2010, setting up a BBQ trailer in parking lots, he already had a loyal following, willing to wait in line for a taste of anything rubbed with a little Ooh Wee.

Curry seasons meat in his famous Ooh Wee BBQ seasoning.

About six years ago, Curry put his BBQ trailer and famous seasoning to rest for a while so he could focus on catering and a new venture: Co-owning his first restaurant, Neighborhood Smokehouse, at 1403 Winter Street.

While his regulars at the smokehouse have come to cherish Curry’s famous rib tips, many have still been asking Curry about his Ooh Wee seasoning. So when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 and delayed a few of Curry's catering gigs, he seized the opportunity to mass-produce and sell his seasoning with some help and connections from the team at SEED Fort Wayne’s Build Institute program.

Curry had long been a caterer-of-choice for the Build Institute, a nine-week, cohort-based basic business startup education program, modeled after Build Institute in Detroit, Mich. Then, in the winter of 2019, Curry enrolled himself in the course.

Curry works in his kitchen at Neighborhood Smokehouse.

While he was technically a seasoned business owner and successful entrepreneur, he wanted to refine his processes and grow his catering business as its own LLC—separate from Neighborhood Smokehouse.

“I enrolled in the Build program to get information, knowledge, and connections,” Curry says. “All this time I’ve been in business, I’ve been confident in my product, but I’ve been treating it more like a hustle rather than focusing numbers, projections, and sustainable growth.”

Curry works out of his kitchen at Neighborhood Smokehouse.


Curry says the Build program—and particularly his mentor, Stephanie Taylor—helped him organize his business plan and attain the necessary funding and information to establish his LLC and scale his catering business. By the spring of 2020, he was closing on loans and signing on large clients, looking for a building, so he could hire staff and keep up with demand for his food.

Then the pandemic began.


While many of Curry’s catering gigs in 2020 were canceled or delayed, his business at the Neighborhood Smokehouse blew up.

“Most of our business is carry out there anyway, so our numbers at the Smokehouse doubled,” Curry says. “We had new customers out the roof.”

Curry seasons meat in his famous Ooh Wee BBQ seasoning.

Considering that many restaurants have been forced to close or scale back during the pandemic, Curry counts himself “blessed” for this stability. He’s shared this blessing with others during the pandemic in the form of free meals for those in need.

“You got to help others,” Curry says. “That’s my deal.”

As the pandemic progressed, Curry has been finding new ways to help his customers, too. While many are cooking from home, he’s decided to pivot his business plans from buying a building to mass producing and selling his famous Ooh Wee seasoning. Build Fort Wayne has helped him make it happen by providing him with connections to distributors and marketers, like designer Aaron Robles, who helped Curry rebrand his products.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lacy Curry began to mass produce and sell his famous Ooh Wee BBQ grilling and smoking seasoning.

Curry says his goal is to release a new seasoning every month to take to market. So far, he has the Big Lacy’s Grilling Seasoning Ooh Wee and its sweeter sister, Big Lacy’s Smoking Seasoning Ooh Wee. And customers have been buying them by the dozen.

“Even yesterday, I had a guy reach out to me, and say, ‘Man, I don’t even grill. It’s not my thing, but this chicken is amazing with Ooh Wee,’” Curry says. “My goal is to give people a seasoning that will assure they’ll have a flavorful product. Even if you only have a little knowledge of grilling—this product can get you there.”

Big Lacy's Smoking Seasoning is available at Neighborhood Smokehouse, Visit Fort Wayne, and Pio Market.


As for his catering business, Curry says it’s picking up again as vaccinations roll out and events reschedule. He’s not looking for a building at the moment, but he feels that he’ll know the right space when he finds it.

While his business plans have evolved during the pandemic, he’s thankful that he’s had a strong foundation of knowledge from Build and support from his customers to roll with the punches.

“COVID-19 was a huge setback on my business growth, but it also allowed me to do what I’m doing now,” Curry says. “I would have never thought about selling my seasoning or going another direction if this didn’t happen.”

Learn more

Curry’s famous Ooh Wee Seasoning is available for $8 at Neighborhood Smokehouse at 1403 Winter St., Visit Fort Wayne at 927 South Harrison St., and Pio Market at 1225 East State Blvd.

Neighborhood Smokehouse

Phone: (260) 739-7041

Hours
Monday-Tuesday closed
Wednesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday 12-5 p.m.

This story is part of an Entrepreneurship series made possible by funding from SEED Fort Wayne. To learn more about SEED, visit its website at fwuea.org.
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