June, 2022 THE VOICE Cover Story with Bourbon Barrel Foods founder and owner, Matt Jamie.
Three and a half years ago, Matt Jamie, the entrepreneur behind the brand Bourbon Barrel Foods, made a life change that has allowed him to grow as much as his business has.
His company, which he founded in 2006, has seen nothing but growth since the very beginning. His idea for Bourbon Barrel Foods began in the early 2000s when Jamie was in his early 30s. “I wanted to do something interesting,” he says. Jamie admittedly had trouble finding his career path. He worked in restaurants, had a series of part-time jobs and attempted grad school, studying exercise physiology before discovering a passion for developing food and flavors. He fixated on aging soy sauce in repurposed bourbon barrels, drawing parallels between the distilling and aging of bourbon in Kentucky and the brewing and aging of soy sauce in Japan. Publicity for the Kentucky-based soy sauce brewery was in no short order. The New York Times, The Today Show, Food & Wine and countless other media outlets (domestic and international) have featured Bourbon Barrel Foods. The buzz was always there, as was the quality of the products. From the beginning, Bourbon Barrel Foods was on its way to becoming the gourmet-foods component of our modern-day Bourbon Country.
After nearly 17 years in business, Bourbon Barrel Foods has evolved into a lifestyle brand that exemplifies the culture and easy living of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country. Growth seemed easy and came naturally. Almost too easy and, at times, seemingly outpacing Jamie’s personal development. “Our growth trajectory has not been a steep climb over a few years. Rather, it was a slow and steady progression over the last 17 years. Bourbon Barrel Foods is strong, always growing,” Jamie says. “I wanted the same for me.”
In 2018, Jamie quit drinking. At the time of this story, he has been sober for 41 months, and in that time, he has grown. “These two things are not mutually exclusive: 1.) The success of my company, and 2.) My personal growth –– one doesn’t happen without the other,” he says.
Over the past several years, Jamie says, “I’ve been learning how to live a life with principle, learning how to deal with life on life’s terms. I’ve decluttered and simplified my life. I’m learning how to live a life with purpose.”
Jamie’s life now revolves around a few ideas: gratitude, self-care, accountability and balance. He leads a simplified life and understands the difference between needs and wants. He says, “I used to focus on what I didn’t have rather than what I had. I had to understand gratitude to know how grateful I was. It’s the simple things in life that I didn’t acknowledge because I was so used to having them.” He applied these fundamentals to his work and personal life. “These practices have made me better. They’ve made Bourbon Barrel Foods better,” he says.
“I have a routine in the morning that helps set me up for the day to be the best version of me. My routine involves reading and writing, exercising and eating properly, meditation and prayer. I have two teenagers at home, my son leaves for college this summer, and my daughter will enter her senior year of high school this fall. These years are important, and my routine allows me to show up with a sound mind and be present for my family.”
At work, Jamie oversees about 40 employees who depend on him to make decisions, solve problems and grow the company. “My job every day is to lead my team at Bourbon Barrel Foods and make it a place where they, too, can grow and flourish. My daily practices have given me the ability to have an understanding of gratitude, accountability and tolerance. People look to me for leadership, but I had to learn how to lead first.
“I gave up control to get some control back if that makes sense,” he says. “My team knows when to involve me, and I trust them. I know my limitations and where I am valuable, which comes with knowing myself better. Understanding and knowing who I am and my strengths and weaknesses is freeing.”
Over the past couple of years, Jamie oversaw a complete renovation of Bourbon Barrel Foods’ Butchertown warehouse, increasing it from 8,000 square feet to 21,000. The section for brewing soy sauce expanded to house 20 300-gallon tanks, which will increase production by more than 500 percent. He added a smokehouse with six smokers, each one the size of a Ford F-150, with room for six more. “We couldn’t meet the demand for our soy sauce and smoked spices with the existing production capabilities. We needed to be able to grow our core product line,” Jamie says. “When the space became available, I intuitively knew that this is what we needed to do — it was a no-brainer. I’ve never turned down the opportunity to grow the business.”
Jamie keeps big notepads in his office with goals and product launches each year. He crosses off what he has accomplished and circles what he hasn’t. “I’m still moving projects I didn’t accomplish from 2019 to 2022. I don’t stress about deadlines so much, which drives my team crazy. I firmly believe that things, and projects, will happen in their own time when they are ready to happen. It’s been a great practice in my life, and it has minimized the stress that work can cause. I realize this may not work for everyone, but if you don’t need a deadline, then why have one? It’s a luxury, but it’s one I’ve worked for.”
“Every year feels like I’m starting over, and I love it. It’s what drives me,” he continues. “Putting new products on the market every year keeps us interesting. One of the more exciting projects I have circled is the acquisition of a brand tied to Louisville’s food history. People will definitely recognize it when we launch.”
What satisfies Jamie outside of his business is making a home, spending time with his kids, cooking, finding new restaurants, meeting new people, traveling and mentoring. “Life used to be complicated because I wanted more all the time,” he says, “and now I focus on what actually matters: my kids, parents, my employees, my house, my friends and my spirituality. All of this grounds me outside the office, which makes me a better leader when I’m in the office.”
And looking forward, Jamie continues to see nothing but growth. “For the company and for me,” he says. “I don’t have an exit strategy and don’t feel like I need one. This company feeds my soul way too much. From all the work I’ve done outside of the business, I realize that now more than anything.”
Bourbon Barrel Foods –
Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace
Story by Bourbon Barrel Foods Marketing Director, Emily Kaniasty with help from friends.
Story Photos by Chris Witzke
Cover Photo by Andrea Hutchinson