Serving customers in the family store’s deli, Jennifer was disappointed in their store-bought seasoning. She went home and complained to TW, and they went to work making their own. “We went to the store and got all kinds of different seasonings, and we started mixing it at home until it was something we wanted,” says Jennifer. “Really all we put in it was salt, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic. We got the proportions like we wanted–not too salty- and put it in an old pickle jar.” Then she enlisted her sons for help. Jack and Joe who were 15 and 13 at the time, rolled the jar back and forth in the house’s only carpeted room until the mixture was perfectly combined.
The Walkers started using the seasoning in the deli, and soon customers wanted to buy it. “So we got jars from the dollar store,” says Jennifer. “They had little handles and shakers. The boys made labels off the computer that said ” Slap Your Mama, Bayou Chicot, Louisiana,’ since that is where we lived at the time. We put them on the counter and sold them for a dollar, and people kept buying them.”
Soon, the Walkers had to buy in bulk. They went to Targil Seasoning & Butcher Supplies in the nearby town of Opelousas and made 25 pounds of their seasoning. They sold out of that, too. Their customers and friends were using it like salt and pepper on everything from popcorn, French fries, and scrambled eggs to their favorite Cajun foods. They encouraged the Walkers to sell to a larger audience, but in order to do so, they’d need to create a barcode and get the product approved. “We got to the point where we asked each other, ‘Are we gonna do this for real?” Jennifer says.
Their product had been perfected, but they first had to settle on the name. TW, an attorney, and Southern gentleman said they couldn’t name it Slap Your Mama, “cause little old ladies are gonna get mad.” Jennifer insisted that it was the name that would sell their product, but she wanted to make one change first.
“We’re going to change it to Slap Ya Mama because it’s much more inviting and fun to say,” says Jennifer. TW compromised, and certainly not wanting to offend his own mother he included the following story on every product; “In 1956, Wilda Marie Fontenot Walker gave birth to the creator of this award-winning seasoning blend. Every time she uses it, she receives a loving slap on the back and a kiss on the cheek, thanking her for another great-tasting Cajun dish.”
With that, the walkers were ready for business. They ordered 200 cases with the revised Slap Ya Mama and they debuted their new product at Ville Platte’s Smoked Meat Festival. They sold 18 cases that weekend, and the following Monday, Jennifer loaded the rest into her little Nissan 280 ZX sports car and went door-to-door from grocery stores to convenience stores. Her area soon expanded to Lafayette and Alexandria, and TW bought her a minivan to fit more product. If a store manager said bo, Jeniffer gave them a case for free, and insisted in her sweet Cajun accent, that they just see what their customers thought. Sure enough, stores sold out, and here calling her to order 10 cases at a time.
“A lot of people buy it because of the name, but they buy that second can because of the flavor,” says TW’s brother Bob. At the time, Bob was selling Slap Ya Mama products at East Mississippi Community College where he worked- the only place east of the Mississippi you could find it at the time.
Meanwhile, Jack and Joe had finished high school and were packing their bags for LSU, 90 minutes away in Baton Rouge. “When we took off to go to college, Slap Ya Mama was in its premature stages,” says Joe. “We had no idea what the potential would be, where it was going to go, and if we could see our future in it.”
A few years after the Dot-Com Boom, Jack and Joe created a website for the company and started taking online orders. Between classes, their studies, college parties, and their part-time jobs at a local restaurant, they packaged and shipped Slap Ya Mama Seasoning. “We drove to Ville Platte once a week during college to pick up the product and bring it back,” recalls Jack. “We had two closets in our downstairs living room stocked full with Slap Ya Mama. You’d walk in the door and would smell the spices. We hired our roommate to work for us, and our friends walked around campus and wore Slap Ya Mama t-shirts.” Unaware of the exceptional entrepreneurs in her midst, a neighbor thought they were selling some sort of illegal substances through UPS. “Just a whole bunch of seasoning they assured her.
“Once we got to where we were going to graduate, more and more packages were going out the door,” says Joe. “we saw the potential in it and thought, ‘Wow we really started something, and it’s growing.”‘
In 2007, the boys moved back home to Ville Platte to run the family business. Jeniffer had connected with a distributor who had gotten their product into Texas, Arkansas, and all over Louisiana, and their footprint was rapidly expanding. Jack and Joe loaded their suitcases and attended international food shows, sharing their homegrown brand with the world.
Today, Slap Ya Mama is sold throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and Panama. The Walkers are running an impressive global business with just 10 employees, and the family remains heavily involved. Joe and his wife, Tana, take care of distribution and bookkeeping from Ville Platte, while Jack manages the marketing and advertising from his office in New Orleans. Although TW is officially retired from the practice of law and the family business, he continues to help with legal matters, real estate deals, and contracts. Targil, just up the highway, still makes many of the Slap Ya Mama seasoning products.
Jennifer and TW get their family together often to cook and test new products in their outdoor kitchen in Ville Platte, relying on the advice of their most loyal and enthusiastic customers–their close friends and family, including their own mamas.