Interviews

A Conversation with Howard Allen, owner of Maroon Sausage Company

Written by Xavier Murphy

As a designer and creative director, Howard Allen has worked within some of the largest brands in the world. As a consummate foodie, Howard decided to stretch his creativity into a new venue in 2013: the kitchen.  As a huge fan of jerk chicken and Jamaican food in general, he decided to create a new version of Jamaican fast food—the jerk chicken sausage.  After perfecting his recipes for spicy, mild and roasted pineapple jerk chicken sausage, he used his expertise in marketing, branding and design to create an experience that goes beyond just your taste buds. His commitment to social responsibility has prompted Maroons Sausage Company, to dedicate a portion of its proceeds to stop forced labor and human trafficking around the world. Howard and his family live in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where he created the seasoning blend for Maroon Sausage in his kitchen.

 

-       1 paragraph description of your idea or business including how long it has been in existence.

My idea of a great business is when I can keep the concept simple, yet meaningful. I started developing the jerk seasoning for what has become Maroon Sausage Company in 2013, however, I wanted the value of the company to stretch beyond its products or its tangible assets. I researched the roots of jerk seasoning and thought it would only be fitting to honor the Maroons of St. Thomas, Jamaica by naming the company after them and also to close the circle by addressing the way West African people got to Jamaica in the first place: slavery. I decided to contribute a percentage of our profits to non-profit organizations that address the issue of modern day forced labor and sex trafficking.  The consumer can enjoy a great product and also contribute to a worthy humanitarian cause.

 

 

Q: Are you a business person or entrepreneur or both?
I think I’m a little of both. {Jerk chicken most defiantly existed prior to my product and so did sausage. However, my interpretation and combing of the two things along with the social responsibility aspect of the company make it different from the average small sausage company. 

One of my objectives was to create a convenient way for people to access that jerk flavor. Another objective was to develop a product that was more authentic and well executed than existing sausage products on the market in high volumes.

 

Q: What was your profession before you started your business? (Only answer if you have a previous career before starting a business) My background is in graphic design and branding, however, I don’t know if I’ve left the profession behind. If anything, I’ve folded design into the development of the product. The way I approach the development of the seasoning is very much how I approach a design project. The holistic approach to creating the brand is probably not the norm for most sausage companies.

 

Q: Who or what motivated you to go into starting Maroon Sausage Co? A friend and I were selling ordinary beef sausages at local events in Brooklyn and we thought that if could come up with something totally unique it would take our business to the next level. We sampled different sausages from different brands and thought we could do a better job.

 

Q:  Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?

Fortunately, creating a new spice blend for a sausage is relatively inexpensive. I used my own money and a small loan from my parents to start the company.

 

Q: Tell us about your business?

Maroon Sausage Company is focused on developing well-crafted jerk chicken sausage for three markets. The business model has a three-pronged approach. Our local retail operation takes place in a green market in Brooklyn where people come by to get our grilled sausage with a side of our special roasted pineapple and mango salsa. Customers will also be able to order product online from our web site. We also have the capacity to product high volumes of sausage to support our wholesale clients.

 

 

Q:  You also give back to Jamaica. Can you tell us about that?

That hasn’t formally taken place yet, however, the plan is to try to source key ingredients from Jamaica and eventually be able to export to the island.

 

Q: Many businesses have a moment they call their “big break”, whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that “”big break ” yet? I don’t think we’ve experienced that moment yet. But I think it’s close. The energy around the product has been very positive.

 

Q: Currently what is our biggest business challenge?

Our biggest challenge right now is transitioning from being a local sausage producer with a great product that everyone loves, to a trusted wholesale provider that large corporations look to when they want to add something unique to their customer experience.

 

Q: Other than the money what types of satisfaction do you get out of your work?

The ability to create something that people enjoy is hugely satisfying. The ability to turn around and use the proceeds from selling our products to help society is also gratifying.

 

Q: What motivates you on a day to day basis?

The fact that I think I can do it better and people like it, makes it possible for me to do this every day.

 

Q: How do you motivate people that aren’t close to you and enable them to see your vision?

I don’t try to explain the product because people don’t believe it until they see/taste it. What I’ve done is simply create scenarios where people can experience the product either in their homes or in an ideal place where they can relax and enjoy the product with other like-minded people.

 

Q: How do you remind yourself of what’s important?

I think about what I want for my family, the values I want my children to have and the impact I want the company to have beyond it simply being a great sausage.

 

Q. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
5A.M. Watch Bloomberg TV while getting dressed, take my daughter to school and at my desk by 8:15. 

Q. Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy traveling to Formula One races.

Q. If the economy crashed hard and there was no more room for you in the business sector, what would you do with yourself?
Create room. That’s the beauty of being a creative person. There are always interesting ideas to be executed.
 
Q: Seven day, six night, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…
We had to cancel our vacation to Curacao this summer and I was really looking forward to that. So, if I could do anything I would like to get my vacation back.

Q: My favorite guilty pleasure is…
I’m a fool for my mother’s German chocolate cake.

Q: My favorite Jamaican food is…
Jerk chicken of course.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. All the best in the future.

The learn more about the Maroon Sausage Company see the following website: www.maroonsausage.com 

 
 

About the author

Xavier Murphy