By Ben Jacklet
// Photos by Adam Bacher
Chris Barhyte keeps a stack of unopened letters in his offices from would-be buyers of the family business. “I don’t even open them any more,” he says. “I’m just not interested in selling. I’d probably have to put on a suit.”
Barhyte is wearing shorts and flip-flops at the Tualatin sales office of Barhyte Specialty Foods, which he has built from a literal mom-and-pop shop into a 52-employee operation generating more than $10 million in annual sales and continuing to expand through the recession. He did so by becoming the boss of his parents, Jan and Suzie Barhyte. The Barhytes had a family recipe for mustard that they trace back to their ancestors in Germany, who first sold it in the U.S. during Revolutionary War times. They formed a company in 1982 selling mustard out of Pendleton. Their eldest son, Chris, a 43-year-old Oregon State University graduate with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, left the corporate world after stints at Disney and Taco Bell/Pepsico and put together a plan for the family business in 1995.
|Barhyte Specialty Foods|
|CEO: Chris Barhyte|
|Founded: 1982, as Old Fashioned Foods|
|Revenues: $10 million|
From the beginning the plan was to sell the product out of the Portland area while making it in Pendleton. The arrangement was meant to minimize family stress, to give Suzie creative control of the cooking while leaving her son free to handle marketing. “It keeps us out of each other’s faces,” says Barhyte. “And it keeps me focused on sales here. They don’t want me out there mucking around with production.”
They started small — real small. Production consisted of mom and pop working with a five-gallon Hobart mixer and bottling the mustard by hand. Barhyte’s budget for the first month projected $15,000 in sales; the actual number came in at $6,000. So the 28-year-old CEO loaded up the van and hit the road, pitching mustard up and down the Oregon Coast and around the High Desert, filling orders, driving around ingredients and making deliveries. Two or three times per week he would get up at 6 a.m., drive out to Pendleton and drop off deliveries on the way back home late at night. He had one customer in Hood River who got used to him showing up at 11:30 at night on his way home and leaving the package out back. The business hired its first employee in 1998: Chris’s younger brother, Mike, who runs the factory in Pendleton.