Life Lessons from the King of Ham: Allan Benton

I had the pleasure of meeting Allan Benton (aka The King of Ham) at this year’s Charleston Wine + Food Festival. We were honored to co-host a bourbon inspired breakfast as part of the weekend’s activities, where we served a six course breakfast featuring Allan Benton’s hams, his wife’s equally delicious biscuits and a series of dishes using our Bourbon Barrel Aged Pure Maple Syrup. While the food was quite impressive, the company was even more-so. Meeting the King of Ham is kind of a big deal when you’re a lifelong foodie like myself, raised by a carnivore loving dad who takes great pride in his bacon curing, meat smoking, ham aging ways. But for me, it was Mr. Benton’s soft spoken presence, heartfelt manners and genuine humility and hospitality that won my heart that day.

Months later, I stumbled upon an article talking about how Mr. Benton runs his business and was struck by the similarities of what guides us here at Pappy & Company. With that, I thought I’d share some of the key life lessons Mr. Benton abides by and how we can all benefit from a bit more King of Ham (and heart) in our lives.

  1. Look to your roots for inspiration. Well thankfully for us at Pappy & Company, this one comes easily as Pappy Van Winkle, the great grandfather of our founders Louise, Carrie and Chenault is the impetus for starting our lifestyle brand. But even when your family heritage doesn’t include a whiskey legend, there is something key to think about here. Our roots define us, and as Mr. Benton points out, it’s what shapes us, whether we realize it or not. While Carrie, Louise and Chenault all started out in different industries, their family name and heritage kept calling them and knew that Pappy’s legend was more than just about the bourbon. It was about preserving a legacy based on the the principles of quality, craftsmanship and design. And always with the highest sense of hospitality.
  2. Keep the product high quality, keep the operation small. The fact that Mr. Benton comes to work six days a week, promptly at 8:30am, and if you’re lucky, may even be the one answering the phone, is proof that no matter how big the brand gets, staying with a core team helps keep focus. As sisters, triplets and like minded entrepreneurs Louise, Chenault and Carrie have grown their team as cautiously as they have the brand. With a small but mighty team based out of Louisville, KY and Sun Valley, ID there are just five full time employees who manage everything from operations to customer service to marketing. So yes, you will always get a live person when you call with questions.
  3. Quality sells itself. Pappy knew this in the early days when he said “We make fine bourbon. At a profit if we can, at a loss if we must. But always fine bourbon." That mantra has stayed with us four generations later as we have expanded the brand into home goods, culinary, retail and cigars. With every new partner or product we add, we do it with caution and consideration for how this will help us grow. We are not about profit driving products that we don’t believe in. We are about partnering with the best of the best in the industry from leather goods to chocolate to syrup to glassware. If it takes more time, means lower production volume or slightly higher prices, that’s what we will do, because we know that’s what Pappy would do.
  4. One fan can change everything. While our fan base hasn’t quite yet broken into the millions, we love nothing more than the fans we do have. They are loyal enthusiasts who live and breathe the bourbon life and nothing makes us happier than hearing from our customers. Mr. Benton notes a few key accounts and chefs that really helped put his brand on the map and we are grateful for similar experiences in the past year. From chefs to writers to bourbon aficionados we know that our company exists thanks in part to their enthusiasm for what we make and what we stand for. But yes Mr. Benton, you are correct, the testimonials and gospel of influential fans can certainly help grow your business.
  5. Don’t overcook the product. This is a more literal lesson for Mr. Benton, when it comes to cooking his ham just right, but I’d like to think he also had a more figurative approach to this one. As a company founded on core products, all tying back to our bourbon heritage, we try not to overcook or over complicate what we do here at Pappy & Company. We are fortunate to have a brand our customers love, a deliberately curated range of products, partners we call friends and family and a business model that keeps us excited to come to work every day. What more could you ask for in terms of the perfect recipe?

I’d like to say that I’m the first to call Mr. Benton “the nicest man on earth” but I’m more than sure he earned this title long before our encounter. If you do have the pleasure to meet Mr. Benton, there are two things I can promise you. You will be enjoying some damn good bacon and you might walk away with a bit of a crush. Thank you Mr. Benton for reminding us of what’s most important when it comes to running a small business and how to always keep your focus on serving top quality products. For that we thank you.

-Mollie Patton, Head of Marketing & Food Lover

Author’s note: Mr. Benton is one of the many incredible partners we work with here at Pappy & Company. We are fortunate to work with a number of artisans and craftsmen who abide by similar values and we look forward to featuring them in future posts.