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Hidden Gems: Meet Reta Washington of Julia’s Pantry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Reta Washington.

Hi Reta, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
We are often asked how we went from careers in technology, nursing, and social work to manufacturing southern gourmet food mixes; well, the journey has been quite a crazy ride, but one of persistence, tenacity, and a whole lot of grit to ultimately arrive at our destination: JuliasPantry.com. Well, in 2004, we were all at crossroads in our lives with early retirements and a need for a career change. Around the kitchen table, we tossed around ideas, our likes and dislikes, our ideal work environment and what each of us could offer in this new adventure: flexibility, creativity, technology, and retail, not to mention that we are all great southern cooks and self-proclaimed professional eaters! Combined, along with memories of Grandma Julia’s cooking, southern culture and family traditions, our first company was born on April 1, 2004: SouthernThings.com.

Our vision for SouthernThings.com was to share a time, a place and a state of mind of by-gone days where families gathered around the family table to enjoy good food, good company and even better stories. Therefore, we sought out the best traditional and gourmet southern foods from other family businesses, including fried pork rinds, biscuit mixes, country ham, BBQ sauces, jams, and jellies. Starting from a spare bedroom in my parents’ house, we filled internet orders with tasty southern treats. With steady and strong growth and the urging of customers and friends, we opened our first (and only) brick and mortar store in June 2008. Unbeknownst to us, a tidal wave of obstacles was hurled our way: the US economy tanked, tighter profit margins, family health issues, and bankruptcy. Additionally, we were hit with a huge supplier issue – no product availability during the Christmas season. But as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” so with a quick pivot and a huge leap we launched Julia’s Southern Foods, LLC and expanded our online retail store, JuliasPantry.com

Through JuliasPantry.com we offer a wide variety of tastefully simple, natural, traditional Southern fine foods created with only the finest classic southern ingredients. Enjoy our dry mixes creating a variety of fruit cobblers, pancake and waffle, classic southern drop biscuits, and of course Julia’s Pantry fried dill pickles mix. When you crave a healthy snack, try Chef Piggy Tail’s Southern Microwaveable Pork Rinds in a wide variety of package sizes, and flavors, Original, Smokey BBQ, Habanero, Jalapeno, Chipotle, Sassy Red Pepper, and the slightly sweet Cinnamon Sugar. For those summertime BBQs we offer a variety of our Wild Boar Rubs, Sassy Cracker Seasonings. JuliasPantry.com offers quality Southern foods and gifts that are quick and easy to prepare and delicious.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
As a small business entrepreneur, no journey is easy – there are bumps, obstacles and detours along the way. We experienced huge learning curves at a time when the internet was still a novel and obscure tool, financial woes, supplier issues, not to mention health issues, divorce, and bankruptcy. However, what we have found is that while the journey can be bumpy, it also affords an opportunity for incredible growth: to persevere, to overcome, to improvise, to learn flexibility, resiliency, humility, to offer grace, to gain wisdom and to learn how to enjoy the journey even in the muddy trenches! Is it hard owning a business? Absolutely! Do you get discouraged? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Absolutely! Be strong and courageous… keep the faith, it is so worth it! The success that you find far exceeds the momentary challenges. May you always have the courage to walk your journey with faith and savor life’s blessings.

We’ve been impressed with Julia’s Pantry, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Julia’s Pantry offers southern specialty foods made in small batches from family recipes, just like Grandma used to do. We use premium ingredients, including locally milled flour, real butter, and real sweet cream buttermilk and seasonings in all our mixes and products, preservative-free and no MSG. Our nostalgic cloth bag packaging and designs pay homage to Grandma’s amazing sewing skills and the beautiful quilts she crafted from fabric scraps. We also offer complimentary products, including country ham, smoked bacon and sausage, grits, flours and corn meals allows us to offer tasteful products and gift combinations for year-round enjoyment and gift-giving.

We invite you to shop JuliasPantry.com and enjoy products that deliver the same quality and taste that Grandma would approve of herself. It is our desire that you leave the family table filled with the joy of eating delicious, wholesome and simple Southern cooking.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
So, who is Julia? Julia Amelia Kelly was born December 5, 1903, in Cumming, Georgia. Grandma married a man with whom her family did not approve and moved to Atlanta. After the birth of two daughters, Julia’s life became more complicated when her husband left them for another woman during the Great Depression. Estranged from her family and being a single mom, Julia found work as a piece-meal seamstress. She and her daughters often had to stand in soup lines. Being a fantastic southern cook, Grandma bartered a room by cooking meals for all the borders, including one of which became my grandfather. At age 40, Grandma gave birth to a son, my father, who was both a blessing and a challenge at her age. However, her children were always a priority and they never wanted for anything. They were raised by a meek woman with a character of steel, tempered by the challenges of life. Julia’s Southern Foods, LLC was born as a tribute to my grandmother.

And, just like my grandmother, I am a single mother of two awesome children, Jason and Julia Kelly – yes, another Julia! Often, I reflect on her life and legacy and the qualities she possessed to live a full and rewarding life, even when she had so little and faced so many challenges: Faith in God, Perseverance, Strength, Tenacity, Integrity, Humility and Joy. She always found the bright side, the silver lining, and made others feel appreciated. That is how I choose to live my life and run the family business.

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