Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Meet Your Makers: Chris Ferguson of Bee's Knees Food Co.

Bee’s Knees Food Co. is a gourmet beer snack company that takes pride in creating snacks that are enjoyed by everyone, but especially craft beer drinkers. We have three year-round spiced peanuts – Chipotle + Lime, Curry & Szechuan. We’ve roasted our products in the West Town area of Chicago since the summer of 2011. We think food & drink pairing is awesome and decided to put recommended beer pairings on our packaging for each flavor we create.

What do you hope to accomplish in your products?
We hope to make people happy. We know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s the truth. When I think back to some of the best moments with friends and family it’s surrounded by food & drink. We hope to play that supportive roll in helping people have fun with friends and family.

How often do you come out with new products? Are you working on anything new?
We are always working on new products, but want to make sure the recipe and flavors we have are just right. We won’t put out a new snack that we don’t love. We do limited release snacks for special occasions or collaborations with breweries. We usually announce our events or collaborations on our Facebook page (

How did you get into this “line of business”?
I was in commercial real estate for 10 years and needed a serious change of pace. I knew I wanted to start some sort of food business. I decided to take some time off and traveled throughout Australia in 2011 when two amazing nights inspired the idea of our company. One evening involved incredible pairings of Spanish tapas with a variety of wines. The second night involved one of the oldest pubs in Sydney, a number of beers & discovering the Ploughman’s Lunch. I thought, “Why can’t we have bar snacks that are high quality and go well with craft beers in America?” So that’s what we set out to do.

What did you do before this?
Commercial real estate for 10 years.

Are your products sold anywhere besides Chicago?
We are in Westmont & also in the process of reworking our website to sell online and ship across the US.

What did you want to do as a kid, "when you grew up"?
When I was very young I wanted to be a Baseball Player or Brain Surgeon. As a teenager I wanted to be an Architect. Looking back though, I know there was a vein of entrepreneurship running through me. I had the typical lemonade stands, but also did garage sales and sold candy to my fellow students at school. I also loaned money, kind of like a pawnshop, to my older brother and charged him interest .

What was the spark that led you to working with food?
I grew up cooking with my Dad and always loved it. He had a passion for it and it definitely worked its way into me. When I was leaving commercial real estate and looking for something that I was interested in, food seemed like a natural answer.

Where do you find the inspiration for the products/flavors you select for your portfolio?
I get my inspiration from other foods and drinks that intrigue me. Our Chipotle + Lime flavor was a recipe that grew out of my love for Micheladas. Our Szechuan flavor is a riff on my wife’s Szechuan Green Beans recipe that I’ve loved for years.

How do you plan to grow your offerings?
We really see ourselves as a beer snack company, not necessarily a “nut” company. We started out with our peanuts because it was a product we could wrap our hands around easily and thought it went so naturally with beer. We have other nut recipes that we are working on, but are constantly looking at other snack food options that we think would go well with a high quality beer.

What do you see as the biggest benefit you offer to your retailers and consumers?
We like to think that we help people have not only a good time by offering a high quality, highly spiced snack, but a great time by suggesting beers that accentuate our snacks flavor.

What is your favorite part of this job?
It’s hard to pick just one favorite. Pretty much everyone we’ve worked with or met through Bee’s Knees Food Co has been awesome. The creativity in crafting our food, our packaging/graphics and writing our blog has been a ton of fun. The flexibility and variety in my day is great too.

What is your least favorite part?
Telling people no

What is your favorite story/anecdote that occurred along the way in creating your product?
The first two doors we knocked on to see if they would purchase our product (The Map Room & Paddy Long’s Beer & Bacon Pub) both said yes to our product. Naively, I thought we’d have an easy time growing and getting into retailers and taverns. While we’ve had more yes’s than no’s, it always requires a lot of hard work and it’s never easy growing.

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