Chugwater Chili foresees nationwide expansion
Among top sellers at the Wyoming State Museum’s store in Cheyenne is one product you might not expect: a chili seasoning. Chugwater Chili sells a zesty complement to cuisine that has won devoted fans across the country.
Beth Miller, the museum store manager, said while the seasoning is popular among tourists to the Cowboy State, residents also appreciate its contribution to tasty food. “I love Chugwater Chili, and that’s what we use at my house,” she said. “It’s one of the products I can recommend.”
Chugwater Chili was found in 1986 at Chugwater, an eastern Wyoming town of about 200 people. But over the years, the fame of Chugwater Chili’s signature seasoning has much exceeded the company’s sparsely populated location, as comments on its website from fans across the country suggest.
“We are from Upstate NY,” one person wrote. “Traveling thru Wyoming we stopped at a roadside stand and bought Chugwater Chili powder. That was in the late ’80s. We have been buying ever since. So do our kids.”
Another fan proclaimed, “It tastes just like the chili on Frito pies I used to get at the Woolworths counter on the Santa Fe Plaza when I was a kid. Great flavor and taste!”
That great flavor has more than a passing connection with the state of New Mexico. Chili peppers for the seasoning are grown around Hatch, N.M., and then blended at a plant in Colorado. Packaging, shipping, and marketing are done by the company staff in Chugwater. In addition to its signature chili seasoning, Chugwater Chili sells chili dip and dressing mix, red pepper jelly, a steak rub, and chili nuts.
Karen Guidice has been involved with the company for several years. In 2015, following a spate of changes within the company, Karen and her business partner Justin Gentle decided to purchase Chugwater Chili. They hope to increase regional markets for the products, including in grocery stores, and then expand more broadly – first nationally, and then perhaps globally.
In charting a course to achieve their goals, Karen contacted the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network for advice. John Privette, SBDC’s regional director for Goshen and Laramie counties, and his colleagues helped Karen and Justin develop pricing models for wholesale distribution and Facebook strategies. In conjunction with Manufacturing-Works, SBDC also helped evaluate Chugwater Chili’s products for export readiness.
“Manufacturing Works and John have been amazing to help us with the areas we’re not familiar with, so we really appreciate all their help,” Karen said. “We were just getting into business and we did not know price points and margins,” she added. “John helped us figure all that out. He was amazing.”
Chugwater Soda Fountain is located just down the street from the Chugwater Chili office. Owner Barbara Dayton said the seasoning is a staple ingredient for many of her menu items, including chili, chili dogs, nachos, and chili cheese fries. Chugwater Chili offers free chili samples to visitors. But when its office is closed, travelers sometimes drop by Barbara’s business for a free taste. “They usually end up buying a bowl,” she said. “It’s one of the most popular items on our menu.”
Looking ahead, Karen and Justin see lots of growth potential for the Chugwater Chili line of products. “Looking at the numbers from the prior years, we are definitely on a growth trend,” Karen said. “The potential is there to continue growing and make this a nationwide company. We’re just really excited about that.”
Click on the “success stories” to the right to learn how other Wyoming businesses have achieved success in the Cowboy State.