A Passion for Atlanta’s Caribbean Food
Leads Alumnus to Sell His Own Hot Sauce
While Austin Williams was studying for his master’s degree in real estate at Georgia State University he developed a new obsession that led him to start a successful side business.
During his down time in Atlanta, Williams explored the city’s Jamaican restaurants and got hooked on jerk sauce, according to the Raleigh (N.C) News & Observer’s “Mouthful” blog. Today, the 37-year-old real estate executive is also the owner and chef of a three-year-old jerk sauce enterprise, Big & Fine Food Co. in Raleigh.
Williams has lined retail shelves from the Southeast through Maine with his “Shizzle Sauce,” and even landed his award-winning product on the European market in the central business district of Paris.
Williams’ “Shizzle Sauce” was born after he moved back to the Tarheel State and began experimenting with recipes for the fiery marinade based on thyme, allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers. When he tried using pineapple instead of the traditional scallions, he hit pay dirt. The all-natural concoction is made in small batches without artificial preservatives, colors, MSG or corn syrup.
“I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been in my life,” Williams told the blog. “It’s hard but the product has traction beyond my control.”
Last year, Maxim Magazine’s “Best Stuff of The Year” listed The Shizzle among its top 75 products. The year before, The Shizzle Voodoo Hot sauce was the grand prize winner in the barbecue category of the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest. It also was voted “Best New Jerk marinade” by Hot Sauce World.
This isn’t Williams’ first foray into running a small business.
During the summer of 1997 he ran a “Cigars-2-U” mobile vending operation several nights a week in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood from a converted van topped with a 12-foot-long cigar that featured glowing ashes.
“It was in many ways where and how I cut my teeth in the sales business,” says Williams, who earned his master’s degree in real estate at Georgia State in 2000. He credits his business school education at the university and his first internship with the Atlanta-based architecture firm John Portman & Associates with his two expanding careers.
He is a partner at Crosland Southeast, a retail and commercial real estate firm in Raleigh.
“My education in the real estate program is obviously directly applicable to my real estate career,” he says. “What is maybe less obvious is that my Georgia State experience also has been pervasive in my creation of The Shizzle. In my mind, real estate development/investment is one of the purest forms of entrepreneurship.
“Each real estate project calls on nearly every category of business acumen: marketing, branding, artistic creativity, finance, law, politics, deal structuring, fundraising and more. And beyond that, each project is a freestanding company from a legal standpoint.
“In the same way, Big & Fine Food Co. is like a real estate project, and its creation has been entirely influenced by what I learned at GSU,” Williams says. “A major difference, of course, is that unlike real estate, The Shizzle can be exported all over the globe. It’s a tasty gourmet product with a sense of humor, and my passion is to build it into a global brand, one mouth at a time.”