Sodexo Live! Small Business Spotlight: JohnTom’s Barbeque

Published on : 5/9/23
  • Lathay Pegues took a leap of faith in 2006 when he came to a crossroads in his career as a news broadcaster. "I had to decide what I wanted to do," said Lathay. "This idea came into my head to maybe start this barbecue sauce business."

    The Story Behind JohnTom's Barbeque Sauce

    Barbeque was in Lathay's roots. His grandfather, John Tom, was an assembly-line factory worker by trade, but his leisure time was spent barbecuing and wood-smoking meat. "My grandfather was a Southerner turned Midwesterner. When he came to the Midwest from Mississippi, he built a barbecue pit on his patio, brick by brick."

    Lathay was 11 years old when his grandfather passed, and it was then that the family realized he had never written down the secret for his sauce. Later, when Lathay was at Indiana University, he took a crack at the recipe. 

    "I felt like it was easy enough, so I thought I could come up with his recipe by experimenting." That experiment lasted five years, as Lathay graduated college and started his career. "On weekends, I'd go in the kitchen and have another try at the sauce. I came up with a recipe that I was proud of, and a lot of people told me I should do something with it one day."

    A Dream Becomes Reality

    After Lathay told his cousin and marketing pro Terrell Cooper and fraternity brother Rodney Robinson his plans to start JohnTom's Barbeque, they were on board. "I told him I needed to taste it first," laughed Rodney. The three men jumped into action to make this idea a reality and chose the Indiana Black Expo to make their debut. After selling out, they knew they had something special.

    Rodney sold their first big account. "I was at a billiards place and talked to the executive chef," Rodney explained. "Our sauce was in their kitchen by the end of that conversation." That was the start of their focus on commercial kitchens. "We knew we only had to sell to a chef once, and then they'd be reordering. That's what has gotten us to where we are now. We've seen significant growth, especially here in Indiana."

    A Partnership with Sodexo Live!

    The trio grew their commercial accounts by leveraging their network for contacts. One connection led to a meeting with Josh Vaught, Sodexo Live! General Manager at the Indianapolis Convention Center. "It's the second largest convention center in the nation. We didn't know what to expect. I was thinking, you know, it's just a convention center," remembered Lathay. But after discussing Sodexo Live!'s culture, focus on DE&I, and passion for using local partners with Josh, Lathay, Terrell, and Rodney were excited. 

    We didn't just want a transaction. We wanted a partnership, and so did Sodexo Live!. We want to inspire other young entrepreneurs, people of color, women, or anyone looking to play in the space because it's not easy. People need to hear an inspiring story."

    Terrell explained why a partnership with Sodexo Live! was the perfect match. "Food is a communal experience. It brings people together, no matter where you come from. Our grandfather carried that passion with him. He would get up first thing in the morning to prepare so everyone could come together. We have that same commitment. Just like Sodexo Live!, we want to bring people together, whether it's through sports, music, in a park or zoo, or even just in your backyard. We want to be a part of that experience."

    Their family could not be prouder of what they've accomplished. "I got some mixed reactions," remembers Lathay. "My mom was very worried. I went to college, I graduated, I got this dream career as a news broadcaster. And now I'm moving back to Muncie to start a barbecue sauce?" Once the successes started rolling in, attitudes started changing. "Our oldest aunt is 83. She's John Tom's oldest child, and she's elated. She's so happy to see us continue her father's legacy." 

    "The lovely thing about barbecue is each region has its own spin. Back in the day, you had to go there to experience it. But now you've got people in Indiana talking about brisket, which used to be confined to Texas. We've transcended those borders. That's the beauty of barbeque."