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Brookhaven-made product finding fans across nation

What started as fun cooking for a Brookhaven woman has now growninto a business with customers nationwide.

About 21 years ago, at the time caterer Chris Jarreau wasmanaging the Brookhaven Country Club restaurant, she was alsohosting a 14-year-old French foreign exchange student. It wasdifficult for them to communicate, but they both enjoyedcooking.

“Even though he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speakFrench, we could speak food,” she said and laughed.

Together, the pair of cooks came up with the recipe for avinaigrette they enjoyed enough for Jarreau to share with friendsand family.

Years of encouragement later, that vinaigrette, called Creole,and five other creations are now in stores from New Orleans toNebraska under the brand name Longleaf Kitchens.

Jarreau shipped her first order of six Longleaf Kitchenvinaigrette brands to Texas Premium Foods of Irving, Texas, Monday.The 8,000 bottles of sauce will find their way from there to morethan 200 Albertson’s Grocery stores.

“They are a gourmet food distributor for the Albertson’s GroceryStore chain, and that’s where this is going,” said Chuck Hancock ofHattiesburg, a distributing partner of Jarreau’s.

It was quite an order to fill, Jarreau said. She is stillingfilling the bottles from a commercial kitchen in her home. She canonly mix enough sauce to fill 75 bottles at a time.

“It was real exciting when (the order) went off on the trucks.Now it really feels like a business,” she said.

It’s been a long road to success, she said, that started aftershe left the country club to start her catering business nearly twodecades ago.

“I used it in my catering business for years and always gotcompliments on it,” she said.

Eventually, Jarreau gave in to the requests from friends andfamilies to market the Creole sauce. She would fill one pint-sizemason jars at a time, carefully measuring each of the ingredientsfor each bottle. Her son Neal, then in school, would help for 25cents a bottle.

She convinced the Flower Tree to begin selling her sauce andenjoyed some limited success.

“We couldn’t keep it in stock, especially during the holidays,but we couldn’t make enough of it to really have any success,” shesaid.

Meanwhile, Jarreau was experimenting with other mixes and aboutfive years ago developed Raspberry and Burnt Pecan sauces.

Her business developed to the point where she needed a bulkingredient supplier, and she turned to Sysco Foods. It was afateful choice.

Her Sysco salesman, Jeff Daughdrill, began talking to her abouther needs and realized she was a perfect match for his brother’sbusiness. He contacted his brother, David Daughdrill, and told himabout her.

Hancock and Daughdrill had recently opened a food brokerageafter years in the food business and were looking for customers.Hancock knocked on Jarreau’s door the very next day.

Hancock was interested in Jarreau’s sauce for several reasons,he said. Among those reasons was that the sauce is made entirely ofnatural ingredients, with no preservatives or stabilizers toincrease shelf life.

“It’s a very versatile sauce,” he said.

Jarreau agreed. “Not only is it a good salad dressing, but it’sexcellent to marinade with. People tell us all the time of new waysto use them, and I cook with it as much as I use it as a saladdressing.”

Jarreau said she had dreamed of going big with her sauce andchallenging the established major brands, but never truly expectedit to happen.

“I had a product, but I knew that not only did I not have thetime, I didn’t have the contacts,” she said.

Now all that is beginning to change, she said. Monday’s order of8,000 bottles and a 52-week contract with Texas Premium Foods maybe enough to propel her into a stronger, more demanding market.

“What’s important about this order, really, is that if it sellsand it the demand grows, we’ll need to open a plant somewhere andthat will create jobs,” Hancock said.

“If this order goes, that’s what we’re shooting for,” Jarreausaid.

She already employs six people part-time, as needed, and oftengets assistance from her family.

Neal, now in the Air Force, came home for Thanksgiving andvolunteered two days of his vacation to help fill bottles to meetMonday’s order. It was a nostalgic trip for him, Jarreau said.

Locally, Longleaf Kitchens’ vinaigrettes are only available atthe Flower Tree.

“They were the first people to ever carry it, and I’m loyal tothem,” Jarreau said.

The vinaigrettes are also available online atwww.longleaffoods.com.